In my spiritual journey as a child of God, I see there are two particular perceptions against the biblical principle of holiness should be considered as the unhealthy, even dangerous misconceptions for the Christian life and holiness.
The first one is the issue of viewing the Christian life as a matter of merit- or works-based legalism. The basic misconception of this attitude on Christian life and holiness is this thought: Being holy or living holy is only a matter of doing some things and not doing other things. That is, if we successfully follow God’s “not to do” commands in our daily lives, we think that we are holy. Jesus condemned such legalism.
The basic biblical meaning of holiness is being separated from worldly things for God’s glory. But, biblical holiness should not be focused on our “doing” in the external sense alone, as though it were only a matterof being separated from worldly things in the sense of legalistic obligation.This kind of approach to Christian life leads us to fall into the illusion that if we are doing morally or ethically correct actions, then we are holy. Thisis an inadequate view of the Christian life.
Please do not misunderstand what I am saying here as if doing right was not important for Christian life and practice. The truth is that “doing” the right thing is critical for Christian life and for spiritual discipline and practice.
For example, attending worship services, participating in prayer meetings or Bible studies, devoting yourself to personalprayer life, or helping others in social ministry are very important and necessary parts of the Christian life. But, these activities are not the end or the true goal in the life of holiness. If you measure holiness only in achieving those outward and external actions, you are missing the mark that God truly places before you.
In his book, Christ at the Door: Biblical Keys to Our Salvationist Future (Crest Books, 2018), Commissioner Phil Needham challenges us to examine our identityas Salvationists. The following comments from Commissioner Needham express his honest concerns about the issue of merit-or works-based legalism in the Christian life of Salvationists. Based on his respect for the Salvation Army’s unique heritage, Commissioner Needham writes:
It is a real temptation for us to reduce holy living to a set of rules, maybe especially since we’re an Army…There was a time when every soldier was expected to wear the uniform, and the assumption was that if he or she showed up without it, well, there must be something wrong spiritually. Really? Well, what about the possibility of a soldier, or an officer, using the uniform to camouflage a sinful heart or an otherwise unholy lifestyle? And have you ever met a uniform wearing Salvationsis with a heart of stone? What about the possibility of my obeying all the rules of behavior as a “good Salvationist,” finding my comfortable place in the corps community, maybe in a leadership position-all the while my relationship with the Lord may be weakening, even as I go through the motions of a good soldier, or officer.
Commissioner Needham’s thoughtful concerns lead us to affirm that “doing” what is right should be manifested as natural fruits of the Holy Spirit in the process of pursuing the life of holiness. The legalistic approach, which is a misconception of holiness, eventually leads you into the problem of spiritual elitism. It places your “self” as superior toothers and holds your status consciously or unconsciously in a judgmental position toward your brothers and sisters in Christ. This attitude is the fatal outcome of the sin of self-righteousness. The basic biblical notion of holiness is focused on our “being” in God’s sight. This “being” is based on the pure desire to please God and to love Him and our neighbors.
written by Major Young Sung Kim, Ambassador for Holiness, USA East SLD
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