The Holiness Tradition
Defining the Holiness Tradition:
- Holiness means the ability to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done
- Holiness is not rules and regulations
- Holiness is sustained attention to the heart, the source of all living action
- Holiness it not otherworldliness
- Holiness is world-affirming
- Holiness is not a consuming asceticism
- Holiness is a bodily spirituality
- Holiness is not “works righteousness”
- Holiness is a “striving to enter in” as Jesus tells us Effort is not the opposite of grace; works is.
- Holiness is not perfectionism
- Holiness is progress in purity and sanctity
- Holiness is not absorption into God
- Holiness is loving unity with God
We, you see, are terribly prone to settle for less than what God desires for us. We are glad enough for God to remove and irritating behavior from our personality (a sour disposition, for example), or a destructive addiction (like alcoholism), but it is a very different thing for him to begin restructuring our inner affections.
We may be willing to give up honors and possessions and even friends, but it touches us too closely to disown ourselves. And yet we simply must understand that God is seeking not to improve us but to transform us. C.S. Lewis writes, “The goal towards which [God] is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal.
We are — each and every one of us — a tangled mass of motives: hope and fear, faith and doubt, simplicity and duplicity, honesty and falsity, openness and guile. God knows our heart better than we ever can. He is the only one who can separate the true from the false; he alone can purify the motives of the heart. But he does not come uninvited. If chambers of our heart have ever experienced the healing touch, perhaps it is because we have not welcomed the divine scrutiny.
The most important, the most real, the lost lasting work is accomplished in the depths of our heart. This work is solitary and interior. It cannot be seen by anyone, even ourselves. It is a work known only to God. It is the work of heart purity, soul conversion, life transfiguration.
Though we cannot see the work itself, we can detect some of its effects. We experience a new firmness of life-orientation. We experience a settled peace that we do not fully understand and cannot fully explain. We begin seeing everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good. And, most amazing of all, we begin to feel abiding, unconditional warm regard for all people.
But believe me, God is determined to pursue this good work in us to the very end. C.S. Lewis observes, “The command Be Ye Perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. [God] is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He meant what He said. Those who put themselves in His hands will become perfect, as He is perfect — perfect in love, wisdom, joy, beauty, and immortality.”
We could imitate the life of Christ down to minutest detail and still not be righteous. Our actions, in and of themselves contain not a single iota of righteousness. All the actions of discipleship do is place us before God so that he can begin to build the righteousness of the kingdom within us. Purity of heart, indiscriminate love, a peace that transcends understanding — these, and so much more, are the things built into the heart of the disciple.
I wish that this simple counsel did not sound so trivial, for it is a profound truth for our growth: stumbling is part of our growing. Our mistakes and failures teach us the right way to live — and that the right way is the good way. And after stumbling it is no small thing to start the beginning once again. We are learning that by starting again and again and again something firm and lasting is being built in us. The old writers call this something “fortitude,” and fortitude builds habits, and habits build character, and character builds destiny.
Everyone is called to Holiness of heart and life. Anthony bloom reminds us that “all holiness is God’s holiness in us: it is a holiness that is participation and, in a certain way, more than participation, because as we participate in that we can receive from God, we become a revelation of that which transcends us.
Excerpts from “Streams of Living Water” Richard J. Foster, pgs. 82-96