Earlier this week, I met with my spiritual director, as is my monthly custom. As she was praying for me at the conclusion of our meeting, a thought came to my mind which I have been holding before the Lord ever since. It is this: “For a Christian to elevate love over holiness renders love hollow.”
As I’ve spent time pondering this – and even asking a few friends to reflect on it – I’m convinced that it is true. Secular society, and even some of the church visible, makes love the ultimate virtue. Of course, we would expect nothing more of secular society, since in not knowing God, it cannot grasp the concept of holiness. But God’s people are called, first, to make him exclusively our God (Exodus 20.3), and in response, to be holy because God is holy (Leviticus 11.45). It is only then that we can love fully, because his love is made perfect in us (1 John 4.12), only then that we can fulfill Jesus’ commandment that disciples love each other as he has loved us (John 13.34).
For Christians, to prize love over holiness cheapens both. However, we likewise can’t prize holiness without love, since that would make us legalistic. Love is best expressed through holiness, and in a sense, we can communicate a sense of the holiness of God through our expressions of love – but only if we are first committed to growing in holiness ourselves.
I know some people have come from or are in traditions where the call to holiness is accompanied by guilt and shame. But that’s not the biblical call to holiness. Jesus doesn’t say “straighten up”, he says, “Come here!” The Lord’s call to holiness is a call to follow him in every way, recognizing that there is grace to help us in the ebb and flow of our walk with him.
So my encouragement to you today is to pursue holiness, for only as we grow to become more like the Lord will we be able to love others with the “agape” love with which he loves us.
“13 So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. 14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.16 For the Scriptures say, ‘You must be holy because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1.13-16, NLT, citing Leviticus 11.45).