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Humanity as Sanctification

In my last (real) post, I stated what Alex McManus said and has written in his new book which is due sometime this fall, that “Following Jesus is important for humanity.” To flesh that out a little more, Jesus was not only fully God but fully human. He is the ultimate man, the culmination and climax of everything humanity was intended to be before the fall. As Christ followers, our holiness is seen in terms of becoming more human if by that we mean more like Jesus.

I attended a seminary grounded in the holiness tradition. There is sometimes a whole lot of baggage associated with the holiness movements of the past, but even though I was unaware of what a “holiness movement” was when I stepped into Wilmore, KY, I’m thankful that I was exposed to it and formed and shaped there. To be sure, there was a lot I was skeptical of at first and still am in a lot of ways, but one of the things I learned to expect was that after one became a believer, God was working through the Holy Spirit to make us into something that wasn’t natural for us: holy people.

What is “holy”? When I took Exegesis of Jeremiah with Lawson Stone, one of the first things I learned was that I could ditch the Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew Lexicon (BDB) in favor of the Koehler-Baumgartner Hebrew Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (KB or HALOT). Some of the major discoveries and work in Hebrew have occurred since the BDB was finished. Thus, it’s not as precise to lean on some of our former understandings of Hebrew words based upon the BDB (and believe me, I know the dangers of pinning all our understanding of words and language on lexical definitions and I hope I’m not doing that here). One example of this is the word “holy”. In the BDB the entry for the Hebrew word qodesh is “apartness, sacredness, set apart.” This is what many of us have long associated with “holy”. Something set apart, too sacred for us to even touch. You really don’t get this sense from the KB which, among other entries including “commanding respect” and “awesomeness” we find “God is.” I’m convinced that “holy” is the very essence of God. God is spirit (Jn 4.24) which is a proposition that really doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. I want to know who God is. I want to know God’s character and God is holy. Isaiah 6.3 says, “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of Hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory.” Revelation 4.8 says that the four living creatures are singing an unending song: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God the Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” God is holy and whatever in this earth that can be called holy is that which possesses some aspect, some trait of the Lord God the Almighty.

God tells Israel that they will be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation (Ex 19.6). Taken in context, Israel was meant to be God’s blessing to the nations, God’s representative to the world and if they were going to bear witness to the Creator God then they must possess some of his attributes. They must be holy. It doesn’t end with Israel, however, Peter appropriates the Exodus language for the church, reminding those to whom he writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2.9). Peter recognized that our being God’s chosen people entails being a holy nation (and a nation from all the nations) in order to proclaim the mighty acts of God. It’s all tied together.

God intends for us to be holy which in my tradition is a part of the way of salvation (via salutis) called sanctification. Sanctification, literally, is the process of making one holy. We take on the character of God. But how will we know what the character of God lived out as a human being looks like?

Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus is the ultimate human. The Holy Spirit is at work in our lives making us and shaping us in holiness. If we continue to think of holiness in terms of “set apart” or “sacred” we wind up cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. Surely, we think, if God has cleansed us and continually cleanses us we ought not get dirty. The fastest way to get dirty is to go outside, right? This is where some holiness denominations and churches have gone off course. They don’t take Jesus’ life and ministry into account. Jesus didn’t hide out in the temple his entire life with priestly garments and self-made righteous. He sought sinners and was sought out by them. He loved them. He had compassion for them. He desired for them a salvation that wasn’t limited to forgiveness and a promise of heaven. He desired that they become like him — fully human — so that wherever Jesus’ disciples went, people said, “Behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The reality is, the more God sanctifies us, the more we become like Jesus, the more human we really are. Humanity isn’t a bad word. Humanity is sanctification.

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  1. March 12, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Great post!

  2. March 13, 2008 at 1:45 am

    Thank you for a great post and deeper insight to the understanding of ‘holiness’. I do have one comment. You say:

    I’m convinced that “holy” is the very essence of God.

    I would think that God’s ‘essence’ is love, as it flows out of the three persons of the Trinity and out of that flows God’s holiness.

    I love the point you make about Jesus remaining holy even while being with the world.

  3. Matthew Johnson
    March 13, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Thanks for the comment, Will. I remember having some pretty heated conversations in seminary about the ontology of God and for me it came down to what the Biblical evidence was. 1 John 4.8 is pretty explicit, “God is love.” However, aside from the Isaiah and Revelation passages I mentioned, God says, “I am holy” (Lev 11.44, 19.2) and is recognized as being holy in other places (Isa 5.15).

    I tend to think of it this way: God’s expression of himself (holiness) is love. There is no better way for a holy being to express himself than through love.

  4. Peach
    March 13, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Amen to that post. To chime in on the discussion of holiness and God’s essence, I think a good way to say it is that holiness=God’s way of being. Holy love is God’s kind of love, and so on. In other words, I agree with you.

  5. Matthew Johnson
    March 14, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Thanks, Peach. You are much more the expert on sanctification theologically and personally than I am so it’s gratifying to get your positive feedback.

    For the record, the conversations about whether God is love or holy were almost always with Duke 🙂

  6. March 22, 2008 at 6:14 am

    Very good post, Matthew.
    Perceptive. Good integration between holiness thinking and its engagement with Alex’s ideas about humanity.

  7. November 15, 2008 at 10:27 am

    This is such a great post. I’ve read it over several times now. I think later today (maybe) I’ll link to this somewhere on my web site — in part so that I can more easily find it again! Anyway, thanks, Matt.

  1. April 27, 2009 at 6:25 pm

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