It's Not Stained-Glass Faith

As I looked at all the stained glass panels in Sainte-Chapelle, the beautiful medieval Gothic chapel in the center of Paris, France, I was struck by the beauty. My husband and I sat for a long time, quiet and meditating on the Lord.

But then it was time to leave. The chapel wasn't a place to live.

As I walked out into the busy Paris street, I thought, "Christianity isn't stained glass faith; it's following Christ in holiness and love." 

It's living out His character in the thick of difficulties. It's following Him into the way of suffering.
It's celebrating His cross, His victory, and honoring Him each day as He transforms my life and service.

Acts 2:1-6 reminds us of the power that was unleashed when God's people experienced the Holy Spirit in their hearts for the first time.

It is this transforming power that the church needs today.

I need it. Without God's power, "holiness" is simply human effort and that's not true holiness at all.

I've spent most of this month focusing on holiness. I'll likely go on for the rest of this year to focus on this attribute of God and His desire to see it manifested in my life.

I don't know if I'll write about it all year. But I'll ask God to help me live it out.

Stained glass is beautiful. But a life that reflects Christ? That's amazing.

This post is part of the New Start '15 campaign initiated by Kathy Howard and Julie Titus Sanders in January 2015 as a one-month effort to call God's people to live in holiness. 
For more information, consult these links:


The Lost Discipline of Repentance

Holiness takes a back seat when we stubbornly protect our pet sins. 

As Christ-followers, we need to “own up” to our sins and repent so we can move forward in confidence, power and purity. We need hearts disciplined by true repentance.

There’s a lot of confusion about repentance today. People don’t like that word. But there’s a New
Testament passage that pictures repentance without using the word.

James 4:1-10 opens with a call to submit to God, which is necessary because so many desires battle within us for control. It’s a battle with serious consequences. 

James says friendship with the world—a heart that embraces worldly attitudes and actions—is akin to “enmity” against God! But God gives us grace for our struggles, and He blesses those who are willing to humble themselves and submit to His Word, will and ways.  

It’s impossible to be holy—in the practical sense—and proud at the same time.

Although this is not a repentance “formula,” some key action words in this passage are part of the daily discipline of biblical submission and repentance.

1. SUBMIT to God (v. 7).
Sinful attitudes and actions begin with rebellion against God, though we may not recognize it as such. Pride tells us we know better than God, we are sufficient in ourselves (and many other lies). We might picture submission as our lives bowed before the Creator and Lord, pliable in His hands.

2. RESIST the Devil (v. 7).
We go the opposite direction from wickedness. We shun it. We run from it!

This is the “turning” of repentance, an active, deliberate choice. 

To repent is to see God’s holiness and His holy standard, recognize our sins—acts of commission as well as things we’ve left undone in disobedience—and to turn away from them. 

3. COME NEAR to God (v. 8).
We need to draw near so God’s Spirit can expose our hearts . . . the secret things, the sins we commit in ignorance. The sins we rationalize. 

Just as in an honest, loving marriage, a spouse can help us recognize and confront our blind spots, the Spirit of God desires to help us in our weakness. 

The Spirit's exposure of our deepest sins is an act of love, because He desires to make us more like Jesus. Verse 8 gives us the promise, when we draw near to the Lord, He will draw near to us.

4. WASH your hands . . . PURIFY your hearts (v. 8).
“Washing hands,” spiritually, is recognizing and dealing with the daily sins that pollute everything in our lives. Although we are positionally clean before God in the sense of Him seeing us “in Christ,” the daily pollution of sin that comes from our flesh, rubbing shoulders with the world, and our enemy, Satan, will continue to affect us until we are home in heaven. 

But it’s not just about the works of our hands—what we do. All sin begins in the heart, and our hearts are “deceitfully wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). We are sinners at heart—sinners saved by God’s grace—who need to focus on holiness each day. There is no room for double-mindedness if we desire to be holy.

5. GRIEVE over sin (v. 9).
Repentance does not take sin lightly. It realizes all sin, at the core, is hard set against God. Whether our grieving over sin is quiet sorrow in the soul or accompanied by many tears—verse 9 suggests there may even be mourning and wailing!—it must be sincere. 

But this is not penance. Grieving over sin is simply understanding sin is still present with us, acknowledging how it is affects us and our relationship with God and others, sorrowing over its continuing presence and impact, and longing for the day when we will be set free from its presence and influence forever.

6. HUMBLE YOURSELVES before the Lord (v 10).
And we come back to where we started. With Humility. Submission. 

When we are truly humble before God, we understand we are nothing without Him. We understand what Jesus meant when He said, “… without Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We cannot be holy without God’s intervention. The Lord and His Word are our only sources of power and provision in dealing with sinful desires and habits. 

When we repent and believe, saying "Yes!" to the Gospel, we become a child of God. It's a total change in perspective meant to change our desires and lifestyle. We have a new Love . . . and new loves (like holiness).

“You have to love something and be passionate for it to be disciplined.” 

Golf legend Jack Nicolas was referring, in a television interview, to the need for self-discipline in the game of golf. But when I heard those words, I thought, “Yes, I have to love holiness and be passionate for it if I ever hope to discipline my life toward holiness.”
The discipline of repentance recognizes the presence of specific sins that keep tripping us up, and our great need for Jesus' grace every day. 
Repentance is not about regrets, more will-power or drowning in guilt. It's not about achieving perfect behavior—a promise to never sin again this side of heaven. It’s definitely not a plea for acceptance.

We are already accepted in the Beloved. We thank God for forgiveness that continually and freely flows to us because of our position in Him. But there’s no denying the continuing presence of sin. 

Repentance allows us to grieve over our sin (because we dishonor God in His holiness), and confess and turn from it to walk in fellowship with the Lord. We ask God to cleanse us afresh as David did in Psalm 51:  
"wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions. . . ."

Humility and repentance are two of the things that return to a revived heart . . . and a revived church. Perhaps we need a prayer to help us restore this lost discipline. These words from an old hymn are my prayer today. 

Dear Father God . . . 

     "Throw light into the darkened cells 
     Where passion reigns within; 
     Quicken my conscience till it feels
     The loathsomeness of sin.
     Search all my thoughts, the secret springs, 
     The motives that control,
     The chambers where polluted things 
     Hold empire o'er the soul." 

Is there a hidden place where “polluted things” control you? Ask God for a fresh commitment to the discipline of daily repentance. 

This post is part of the New Start 15 focus on Holiness in 2015.  


Rediscover Holiness

Have you ever been overcome by thoughts of the holiness of God? As I listened to the choir sing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty,” I wept in the pew.  I was simply overwhelmed by the perfect holiness of God; and I knew—except for my position in Christ—I am oh so unholy.

A song I remember singing as a young girl was “Take Time to Be Holy.” Do you remember?

    Take time to be holy, The world rushes on;
    Spend much time in secret With Jesus alone.
    By looking to Jesus, Like Him thou shalt be;  
    Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

I'm not surprised many hymns and songs in the Christian world emphasize God’s holiness; but today, how many songs call us to personal holiness before Him?

Many years ago, people in America clearly understood the difference between “holy” and “unholy” in everyday living. The Anglican minister J.I. Packer wrote, “There was a time when all Christians laid great emphasis on the reality of God’s call to holiness and spoke with deep insight about His enabling of us for it.” (1)  

In fact, the Puritans, he said, insisted that ALL life and relationships—marriage, parenting, friendships, career, stewardship, etc.—must become "holiness to the Lord." But that’s not always true today. There is a "lost world of authentic Christian holiness," Packer said in Rediscovering Holiness.

Packer, along with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Andrew Murray and Jerry Bridges, inspired me in 2014 to examine my own heart. I read their books about holiness and asked the Spirit of God to be my teacher. Over time, I “rediscovered” what God means in these two words: “Be holy.” It was so much more than I'd imagined.

The more I read about the beauty and power of holiness in the Christian life, the more I longed for it. Like others in the church, I can put up a good front . . . but God always sees my heart.

Last October, I attended the True Woman conference sponsored by Revive Our Hearts. God used the speakers and His Word to open my heart even more. Before I went, I thought I was doing pretty good, but one night I wept in repentance, broken over my unholy state. I saw the pride, the comparisons, the jealousy, the selfishness. I looked good in public, but in my heart I was a mess.

And God wasn't done. Returning home, I couldn’t get enough of reading about holiness and sanctification in Christ. God gave me a growing hunger for biblical holiness, not the half-hearted holiness that makes Him sick.

Christians can be deep in ministry and still spiritually shallow. The pursuit of holiness is meant to be daily, not sporadic. Busyness, distractions—even with good things—and lapses into sin are just a few of the many things robbing us of the beauty and joy of holiness. 

I discovered holiness has many dimensions. 
  • We are separated unto (or set apart for) God so we can faithfully and powerfully serve Him.
  • We are consecrated (devoted) to the Lord and called to live with higher motives.
  • We can cooperate with God as He makes us over in holiness (as He sanctifies us).
  • We will sense a growing fear of displeasing Him.
  • We desire to show respect for God’s holiness through our own holy behavior.
  • We will rejoice in holiness, finding it is not a drudgery. It's a blessing!
  • We discover holiness isn't as much about rules and lists as it is a heart eager to obey God.
  • We hunger to do God’s will and take God’s moral law as our rule and guide for holiness.
  • We pursue purity of heart and holy behavior in every aspect of life—marriage, friendships, finances, work/ministry, physical passions, etc.
  • We learn to love what God loves and hate what He hates.
  • We pray for holiness, knowing it can only come from God.
  • We reject all impurity—shunning and departing from every known sin and ungodly habit.
  • We practice repentance as a daily exercise for growth in holiness.
  • We focus on Jesus as our model of holiness, striving to be like Him.
It touches on every part of our walk with God!

Packer explains (2): 
 "A holy person’s motivating aim, passion, desire, longing, aspiration, goal and drive is to please God, both by what one does and what one avoids doing."
It is a response of deep heart gratitude for the grace God has given, and holiness is not just for the people in the pew. It’s for everyone in "full-time Christian ministry" too. The great Scottish revival preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, once declared: “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” 
It is God’s will that we become holy people (1Thessalonians 4:3). In fact, holiness is the goal of our salvation (Titus 2:11-14), and God gave His Word to train us in righteousness (2 Timothy3:16-17). 

Yes, the “world rushes on,” as the song says . . . but if we are wise, we will "take time to be holy." 

Do you want to go on a great adventure with God and find out for yourself what the Bible means when it says, “Be holy"?
Believing God calls us to a fresh discovery of the meaning and practice of holiness, I’m excited to be part of a month-long journey into holiness called New Start 15. The entire month of January, beginning January 5, a group of bloggers will explore different aspects of this topic—the Benefits of Holiness, Hearing God's Call to Holiness, and Practical Holiness in Daily Life. Please join me in this adventure!

To sign on, go to: http://www.kathyhoward.org/want-new-start-2015.
"Like" the New Start 15 Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NewStart15)

(1)  J.I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2009), p. 12.
(2) Packer, ibid., p. 21
Graphic adapted: Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.