07 February 2011

The New Holiness

Our Axiom launch team has been studying and conversing about our core value of Love. This is a snippet of what we are learning. Sorry it's a bit long.

The religious experts of Jesus day were knowledgeable interpreters of the Torah, the Jewish law and they took it upon themselves to discern how best to live out the laws of God without breaking them. One sure and safe religious method when it comes to laws is to make more laws in order to clarify big-idea laws. This is actually quite a typical response in religious culture to oppose pagan or secular culture. For the religious experts, their intent started out good – to make “the law” doable and clearer. By the time Jesus came to earth it was common knowledge that the Torah contained 613 separate commands and prohibitions. These were designed to help ordinary people “please God.” Or at least that was the intention.

The pressure to “please God” can be a tricky and sometimes a manipulative force. The evangelical church has placed a lot of discipleship emphasis on the rigorousness of how to please God. I do think the intent is good but I believe the outcome has been disastrous. When Jesus speaks He believes it is has disastrous effects as well; guilt, pride, self-righteousness, neglect of the poor, spiritual narcissism, pettiness, cold-heartedness, selfishness, hatred, envy and an overall misunderstanding of who God is. These are often the byproduct of a rule-based, moral-code based or pressure-to-please based, pursuit of holiness.

When speaking about the nature of the Kingdom, Jesus makes a strong and overt case for the redefinition of what pleases God. At a pivotal moment some religious expert came to Jesus with a question because they wanted to trap Him. In Mark 12:28 the experts ask Jesus “Of all the commandments which one is the most important?” So the real underlying question could be phrased like this “How do we be truly holy and please God?” In His answer Jesus flips the apple cart upside down on the formula for pleasing God and we’ve been struggling to embrace it ever since. Jesus obliterated the 613 laws and reduced them down to 2.

We often think of holiness in terms of purity or a moral barometer. The church has traditionally interpreted Be Holy for I am Holy (1 Peter) or Be Perfect as the Father is Perfect (Matt 5) as “Hate impurity because God hates impurity or avoid sin because God doesn’t tolerate sin in His presence.” I’m all over the seriousness of maintaining moral purity but that really isn’t how Jesus defines holiness and remember, Jesus is God. Jesus’ response is what I like to call “the new holiness”. Jesus responds by blowing up what holiness is. Jesus’ response to the teachers is extremely unnerving to their understanding of God and I think to our current church understanding as well. It is also a blazing spotlight on the new way of the Kingdom of God. There is a new accountability marker (pleasing God) that Jesus lays out in Mark 12:29-31. Love is the new holiness.

Maybe your unsure about forcing everything you are, and do, and say through the truth “Holiness is Love” because you’re afraid it will make you weak, wimpy and not stand for anything. I love this quote “When God flexes his muscle, it doesn't look like Rambo or the Terminator — it looks like Calvary!“ You may think it’s weak and the culture may think it’s weak, but that is the upside down way of the cross. Colossians 2:15 declares “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, Jesus made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” How is it that Jesus made a public spectacle of them when he was the one left exposed naked, lied about, abused, beaten up by a mob, laughed at, had his authority mocked, and ended up having his followers embarrassed to know him? Because Holy Love always triumphs in God’s economy. In God’s earthly Kingdom the powers and sin that seem to be winning – LOSE. The people who appear to be losing – WIN. This new Law of Love requires constant community discernment when it comes to applying it to our everyday circumstances. When the lights go on that the real manifesto of a kingdom community is love, we invite the struggle of how this piercing and cutting truth should inspect all our motives, actions, choices, idols and social relationships (Galatians 5). Love is our opportunity to expand Jesus down payment here on earth. Love should be our trajectory for growing God's church, being salt in our culture, and governing our personal and communal lives. We have a choice to live out this Law of Love.

inspired by Jesus Creed by Scot Mcknight
inspired by Why It's Hard to Love Jesus by Joseph M. Stowell

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