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Be Holy....Because I AM Holy..... by Mary Newsom

Why do people not notice Christ on earth today? We know His presence donít we? For we, the Church are His body, we are called to live in Christ and we must take this seriously for " Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did" ( 1 John 2:6) This is a call for holiness so we must respond. Revival cannot come in a vacuum, nor would it be sustained in a luke-warm church, it has to start with us and so we are right to examine our churches and ourselves. God has already waited 2000 years for us, how much longer will He wait?

God led me to pray for a Holy Church some years ago now and I soon realised that I could not pray this unless I was prepared to have Him change me. As a result Iíve read much about holiness and see a number of different attitudes to it, but no matter whether the writer is anglo-catholic or evangelical there is the same certainty of the need for us to take this matter seriously.

In the mid eighties I discovered a new printing of a classic book "Holiness" by Bishop J.C.Ryle first published in 1877. The foreword amazed me because it indicated that little had been written on this subject since this great work. This sparked an interest for me as I realised that it was such a neglected subject. Ryleís prose was excellent and I was not deterred by the Victorian writing; the book left an impression on me. Ryle wrote his book to counteract the ideas of the "Holiness Movement" which was imported from America following the publication of a book called "Holiness Through Faith" by an American Quaker Robert Pearsall Smith

Ryle wrote his book on Holiness because he was afraid that the personal holiness teaching was seriously defective on sin, and would lead to an untenable doctrine of sinless perfection. He was a brilliant theologian and loving pastor, his starting point was always the Bible and he was concerned that his flock received the best teaching.

More recently, 1992, I found a new book J.I. Packerís "A Passion for Holiness" and I just had to buy it. He starts by describing how he sees Holiness speaking of the "loss of a precious past". He teaches that "holiness, like prayer must be learned through experience, commitments have to be made, habits formed and battles fought. The process of learning can be thought of as a school but it is Godís school under His sovereign providence and in that school our Lord Jesus Christ is with us. It is a controlling relationship of master and servant, leader and follower, teacher and student". He stresses that it is crucially important to appreciate this for progress in the school has nothing to do with intelligence but on the quality of oneís relationship with Jesus. He also quotes J.C.Ryleís book which enumerates a twelve-point profile of a holy "man" - for man also read "woman", Ryle used inclusive language and was incidentally an advocate of women serving in the church.

It is starting to sound hard and when we look at the conservative evangelical churches we see how it often became a set of moral rules rather than a loving obedient relationship with Jesus, but donít give up on the evangelical teaching for it will produce a Biblical understanding of Holiness. Nevertheless Packer wrote his book to stress the importance of Holiness and starts by quoting Hebrews 12:14: Make every effort to live in peace with all men and be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Notice the word effort, Jesus never promised us an easy life and the closer we come to God the more we are aware of temptation and sin. It is as I have looked at different types of prayer that I have also read books with a Catholic origin. Much can be learned from the mystics of the past, St.Teresa of Avila, St.John of the Cross, Mother Julian to name but three. We can get ourselves very confused if we read too much beyond the state we are in but slowly we learn that Jesus is our guide - (Packer just said that). I found that I was attracted to the various forms of silent prayer. God was gracious and I received great blessing from it but I had to learn to trust Him in this for it sometimes seemed like "Day-dreaming" or "wasting time". I didnít understand "The Cloud of Unknowing" by an unknown 14th century monk but I realised that here was a special relationship if I was willing to pursue it. I was so grateful to Joyce Huggett for her book "Listening to God", here was an evangelical willing to embrace Catholic methods in order to draw closer to God.

It was at this time that I came into Renewal and realised that books I was reading seldom mentioned churchmanship, they were so full of the Holy Spirit that differences came to be seen as a wonderful diversity of Christians who knew that God loved them and wanted to celebrate His presence. Some of the early Renewal meetings I went to were run jointly by the St.Albans Dioscesan Renewal Group and the Hertfordshire Charismatic Union which was a Roman Catholic Group! God was clearly saying, "Youíve all got some of it right and I love you all"

So please be willing to learn from any source that God puts in front of you.

Although my background is mainly evangelical I believe that we should recover something of the Catholic traditions of prayer. On the matters of holiness and the Spirit, the Catholic - Reformation divide was not so great, we see that in ARM (Wales) for we are a mixture of anglo-catholics and evangelicals. We all recognise that we have the Holy Spirit within, but are we really aware of His presence? The classic book "The Interior Castle" by Teresa of Avila is only one that describes the search but we need to journey into self not only to find God but to discover our true selves. This is in fact prayer.

True prayer and holiness grow together, as we sit silently in the presence of God we give ourselves a chance to hear Him and learn to love Him. For how can we love Him unless we know Him and how can we really obey Him unless we love Him? (John 14:15, 30) Loving God, like being Holy is a command, but it is an act of will or do we need to feel something in order to really make a response? The love which leads to obedience and surrender can only come by spending a lot of time in Godís presence. As our hearts are given to God in love He writes His law on them (Jer. 31:33) - then this law becomes love in us and we become what we really are - His children. This is scriptural and some will say just believe the scriptures, but it is not easy for most of us and it is necessary to meditate on the scriptures for love takes time to mature and we have to see our hidden sins in order to repent of them and confess them .

God has made all the necessary provision for us to become holy but we have to acknowledge our responsibility for our sins. We must first realise the need to become Holy and start to question how? Remember that Jesus is our guide. We donít need to struggle to follow a rule book but we do have a part to play in our sanctification, we have to be willing to give up sins - even what we think are little ones! For the real reason we must give up on sin is that it hurts Jesus , the One we love.

I urge you therefore to consider what it means to be a Christian, we need to meditate on suitable texts (some are suggested below: see "To Be A Christian") and let God speak into our hearts. It is not easy, suffering is to be expected for we are asked to become like Jesus and walk the Way of the Cross. We will be regularly tested but never more than we can bear (1 Cor.10:13)

Do we want to see God? Note what Phil says in his letter and pray expectantly remembering that "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (Matt.5:8) and

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled (Matt 5:6)

What a promise!

Mary Newsom

[This article is reproduced with permission of Anglican Renewal Ministries (Wales)]

 

To Be a Christian     (Some texts for meditation)

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1,2) NIV

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to deathó even death on a cross! (Phil 2:5-8) NIV

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3,4) NIV

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11)NIV

Further texts pointing to a Holy life can be found in Colossians 3 and 1 Thessalonians 4:1-10

If meditation on scripture is new to you start slowly with a few verses on LOVE. Look in Johnís first letter for lots of inspiration. Just read slowly until God chooses the right verses for you. He will bless you.