Holiness is a community project
Three or four years ago my conception of holiness was something that demanded separation from the world and was achieved through more study, reading, and meditation. The more knowledge I had about God the more holy I would become. That, however, is a severe distortion of the image of the holiness Christ calls his people to throughout scripture.
Jesus, the holiest of all men, lived his entire ministry life in a community of believers. He also spent a significant amount of time surrounded by people who were considered by the “religious” of his day to be unclean. The Apostles grew in the context of shared experiences, surrounded by others. There wasn’t much go off alone and study time in Jesus’ ministry. Quite the contrary. Communal living was the center of Christ’s sanctification process. God has structured his world so that we need other people in order to progress spiritually. Piety is no a private activity; holiness is something that grows in the soil of relationships.
Sanctification isn’t for sanctification’s sake
Tied in with the above point is the realization that sanctification isn’t for sanctification’s sake. God isn’t making us accurate reflections of Jesus so he can put us all in a room to admire each other and compare how accurate our imitation of Christ is. Jesus told his disciples, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)
Trees don’t bear fruit for their own sakes. They bear fruit so that others can eat it and so that they can reproduce. Our sanctification is for the sake of mission. Jesus has sent us to be his messengers, and when we go out to proclaim his message he will transform us to be accurate representations of him. Our sanctification is for the sake of showing the world the glory of our God.
I need the Spirit more than I need the fruit
For many years there was this conception in my mind that I needed to, one by one, gather the fruits of the Spirit and develop them in my life. In my struggle with pornography and my leadership of the Threshingfloor crew I’ve realized that what I needed wasn’t just more fruit – I needed more of the Spirit. In John 15 Jesus says that those who abide in him bear much fruit. You don’t get the fruit without the vine. Watchman Nee, in his classic book The Normal Christian Life, writes;
And this is the truth. God will not give me humility or patience or holiness or love as separate gifts of his grace. He is not a retailer dispensing grace to us and packets, measuring out some patients to the impatient, some love to the unloving, some meekness to the proud, and quantities that we take and work on as a kind of capital. He is only given one gift to meet all our need: His son Christ Jesus. As I look to him to live out his life and me, you’ll be humble and patient and loving and everything else I need – in my stead. Remember the word in the first epistle of John: “God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath the life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life. (1 John 5:11-12)
Often we try to gather the fruit of the Spirit and yet ignore his presence. We need to realize that God has given us more than just sections of moral excellency. He has given us the vine from which they grow. Rather working so hard to improve in love, joy, peace, patience, and all the other things we know we’re supposed to have we need to focus more on Jesus. The secret to spiritual growth is simple. Be connected with the the vine, then the growth just happens.