Thoughts on Holiness

Today at church, many in the band were on vacation, so we had an acoustic set. (I say “we”, though I am in no ways involved in the music, which is to everyone’s benefit.) One of the songs we sang was “Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher. I had never heard the song before (which makes me running the lyrics on screen quite the adventure), and one line of the lyrics really caught my attention:

Holiness is Christ in me

As soon as I saw these lyrics, I scrambled for my journal and wrote them down. I’d never really thought of holiness this way: I grew up in a conservative Christian denomination in which holiness was functionally restricted to dress code and standards of appearance. Lip service was paid to the idea of inward holiness manifested in outward piety, but, anecdotally, outward standards WERE holiness. I’ve grown away from that, but I’ve never REALLY understood what holiness was. 

Then, the text was from Mark 10, and we came to the story of the rich young ruler (vv. 17-23). He approaches Jesus and asks what he can do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers by quoting the Ten Commandments, to which the ruler replies, “Teacher, all of these I’ve kept from my youth."

I can sort of imagine what this scene looked like. In my mind, this young ruler was handsome and a hotshot in Jerusalem. He was well-dressed and well-groomed, and he had a winning smile. He grew up rich, inherited his father’s money, and was probably a pretty good kid, the most popular of the group. When he ran up to Jesus, he wasn’t being entirely forthright; maybe he was curious what Jesus would say, but he probably went to talk to Him because it was just the cool thing to do. I imagine that when he ran to Jesus and knelt down, he did it in front of a big crowd because he wanted everyone to see him and realize just how awesome he really was. So when Jesus told him to keep the commandments, his response was “Done. What’s next?"

Of course, we know that he couldn’t really have done all these things. He couldn’t have perfectly kept the commandments his entire life. Surely at some point he lied, or wasn’t entirely fair in a business dealing, or lusted after a woman, or hated someone in his heart so much that he wanted to kill them. But even if he hadn’t done any of these things, he failed the most important commandment, which we see next. 

After this young man told Jesus he’d kept the commandments his entire life, Jesus told him to sell everything he owned, give it to the poor, and become a disciple of Jesus. This, of course, proved to be too much for our rich young ruler. As the crowd stared, and this young man was faced with such an unrealistic commandment, he maybe stood up, indignant and angry, and stormed off. But I don’t think so. Maybe he was a little more earnest than he appears, and he was a little too proud of his piety, and when Jesus gave him that command - “sell ALL that you have” - our rich young friend realized one commandment that he hadn’t kept - “you shall not have any other gods above me.” There was a god in his life above God, and he chose, in that moment, which god he was serving. 

So what does this story have to do with holiness? Well, to anyone watching from the outside, all of the measures of religion were met. This man was very pious - he was thorough in his worship and traditions, he gave in the offerings and sacrifices, he avoided the unsavory elements and kept his reputation intact. But at the heart of the matter, he was an idolater. He worshipped his possessions more than God. His outward actions had no effect on his inward condition - despite his religiousness, he wasn’t serving God. 

Holiness is Christ in me. Holiness is Christ completing His perfect work in your heart, changing what you love and giving you a heart after His. And that’s what I want - true Holiness: Christ in me.