Holiness in Missions

children-at-risk“She committed suicide,” I was told as I looked through a 1977 yearbook of one of our conservative educational ministries. “He is divorced.” “They no longer are Christians!” “They left their parent’s values years ago.” “I don’t think they go to church anywhere anymore.” “They dropped everything and sporadically attend a charismatic church.” Statements like these about many other individuals pictured there caused a lump to swell in my soul. What happened in these lives over the past thirty-five years? The portraits of these smiling “conservatives” would never suggest the cataclysmic changes that would characterize the next three decades of their lives.

These changes are not confined to Anabaptist circles. I recently read through the 1924 Student Catalog of the Bemidji State University located near my home in Blackduck, Minnesota. A university that is decidedly secular today with its co-ed dorms and agnostic curriculum, encouraged their students in the “General Information” section of their catalog in that era to, “attend regularly some church of their choosing. The College, recognizing the value of religious culture, encourages its students to form and maintain intimate relations with the churches.”

The identification and practice of holiness has been nearly obliterated by the waves of lasciviousness, legalism, individualism, and denominationalism. Students who do not have a living faith will inevitably develop a false view of what motivates a Christian. They wrongly assume that practices of holiness are to somehow earn them favor with the Lord and/or the church. They fail to ever comprehend that true believers are drawn to holy living because of their deep love. In the absence of that love, holy living becomes burdensome and restrictive to the normal pursuits of life. The changes come rapidly when they “wake up,” and their heritage is gladly abandoned with little or no thought about how the “new freedoms” will effect the culture and heritage of their offspring.

Gerald McDermot penned it well in Seeing God, when he said, “True Christians find that the love of God in Christ is so attractive, so beautiful, that they cannot help wanting to serve him.” He goes on to say, “If I had to summarize in one statement what distinguishes true from false spirituality, it would be this: the unregenerate never see the beauty of holiness. They may see and have some understanding of God’s holiness, but they never see it as beautiful.” He concludes, “only an appreciation of the beauty of God’s holiness is powerful enough to change the heart.”

The “fire escape” salvation that is offered by much of Evangelicalism today seldom lifts the seeker above a self-preserving tonic for the “old man.” Holy living is, at best, set aside as unnecessary, and at worst, seen as legalism. Legalism can never produce or maintain holiness. Legalism only produces a quaint people out of touch with God’s call to “go into all the world.” The fear of hell is insufficient for sustaining a life of holiness. Only a love for the Father can develop and nourish a holy life in the believer.

The beauty of holiness is captivating! It is comforting! It speaks of transcendence! It is powerful and gripping! Though we triumphantly sing, “Oh worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!” many of us have yet to feel its comforting intoxication. A woman from a Chiang Mai brothel came to the IGo chapel repeatedly just to watch loving fathers take care of their children during the service. She was fascinated by the beauty of holiness. A motorist who noticed a group of young people singing at a highway rest area, later wrote to say, “keep sharing that inner love.” He was captivated by the beauty of holiness. A pastor related his dislike for Americans until he hosted a group of radiant students on their ministry trip. Since then, he has not missed attending the annual Asian Bible School. He was gripped by the beauty of holiness.

The beauty of holiness “leaks” out of the lives of God’s people. It flows from their foundational love for God which colors all they do. Their kindness to their enemies is beautiful! Their radiant, joyful countenance is beautiful! Their life-long loving marriages are beautiful! Their self-sacrifice to “in honor prefer” another is beautiful! Their modest attractive appearance is beautiful! Their care for the poor and needy is beautiful! Their respect for the elderly is beautiful! Their reverence in worship is beautiful! Their beaming, obedient children are beautiful! Their moral standards of purity are beautiful! Their joyful, God-honoring music is beautiful! The heritage of godliness they have welcomed is beautiful! Their hearts that hold no grudges are beautiful!

This is the power of the Gospel! It is certainly true that Jesus forgives sin and removes us from the eternal consequence of that sin, but He doesn’t leave His people ugly! He makes them beautiful! He makes them holy, not only positionally, but actually! This is the message that evangelists and missionaries must carry to our dark world. Where Jesus has been, there is beauty! Let us sing with heartfelt desire:

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,
All His wonderful passion and purity;
O my Savior divine, all my nature refine,
Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.

By Val Yoder (I Witness News/Spring 2012)

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