Explaining Christian Holiness

Does the Bible really call us to be transformed into holy people?

"Don't let the world squeeze you into its mold" -- Romans 12:1, Phillips' New Testament in Modern English

A chapter from Living Out of the Mold

Chapter preview by book editor

In 1956, a program called "To Tell the Truth" premiered on American television. Through the years, it was produced off and on and, in between times, always seemed to be in syndication. On that program, three guests claimed to be the same person engaged in some unusual occupation. In actuality, only one of them was engaged in that occupation. The other two guests were impostors. A four-member panel on the show would ask questions of all three guests. After a round of questions, each panelist selected which one of the persons he believed to be the real "flypaper maker" or whatever. The panel rarely reached a consensus.

The true identity of the guests -- the one real and the two impostors -- was revealed by the moderator asking, "Will the real (_______) please stand up."

This phrase of identification became an oft-used expression in American culture. Even today, the expression will be used to encourage someone to quit pretending and be done with charades. For instance, a person talking with me -- if they began feeling I was less than authentic -- might say, "Will the real Jerry Hull please stand up." Wouldn't such a confrontation require me to assess whether I am authentic or inauthentic?

Howard Culbertson invites us to take a careful analysis of ourselves. He rightfully reveals that being a Christian is more than assuming some role. Rather, being Christian means being totally me in Christ.

Christian living is not a special coat or jacket worn only on select occasions and easily removed when the setting is not conducive. Missionary Culbertson announces that being a disciple of Christ includes 100 percent of me for a full 24 hours every day. Howard, thanks for laying it on the line. Thanks, also, for modeling the discipleship you describe.

   -- Jerry Hull

photo of Living out of the Mold
book cover

You can't become an Italian by eating lots of spaghetti. Or even lots of pizza (although the Internet tells us that Italians do eat a lot of both)!

You won't turn into an Italian by learning to sing "0 Sole Mio" or by driving a Fiat car or by taking three-hour lunch breaks. You won't even turn into an Italian by going insane over soccer (although the Internet tells us that Italians do all of these things).

In the same way, you will never turn into a Christian by deciding you won't use tobacco, get drunk, or go with the girls who do (although mature Christians can certainly assure us that these things don't fit well with a saintly lifestyle).

Being an Italian -- or being a Christian -- is not something you do (or don't do). It is you, or it is not at all.

Is your nationality showing?

During the ten years we spent in Italy, we had frequent contact with tourists, particularly American ones. Some of the more brash would sweep in and, after two or three days, be instant experts on the Italians. (I'm still undecided as to whether I should laugh or cry over their superficial snobbery.)

Certainly, the typical Italian is different in lots of ways from the typical American. However, those differences run far deeper than the "quaint" things a tourist would see in two days. A person's nationality is determined by far more than his or her passport. To be Italian means sharing the worldview of other Italians. It means basing our thinking on certain presuppositions. It means our priorities and values approximate those of other Italians. It is out of this that flow the more obvious things such as social behavior, diet, dress, and language. [ explanatory graphic ]

Encyclopedia and Wikipedia writers outline a people group and their culture in bite-sized pieces. But this should not obscure the fact that one's nationality affects his total person. A person is not Italian because he or she eats a lot of spaghetti. However, it can be said that because a person is Italian, he or she likely eats a lot of spaghetti.

Being a Christian is a bit like our nationality. We are called to let the Lordship of Jesus Christ reign in our entire beings. That means much more than being active in a church. It means being different -- different from the world and what we once were. We have become, by choice, citizens of the kingdom of God. Thus we find ourselves sharing with other Christians a bunch of basic principles and motivations which determine direction, and lifestyle.

Let's not try to seal our spiritual selves into vacuum-packed bags. In a sense, we have taken on a new nationality -- one which affects us every waking hour of the day.

Now, it is true that I don't lie, steal, or involve myself in sexual immorality. But that's not because I made a New Year's resolution not to lie, and a separate one not to steal, and still another to be chaste. Rather, I've let Kingdom power invade my whole life. My worldview -- the way I look at and evaluate the world -- is Christian. I've asked the Holy Spirit to shape my presuppositions, priorities, and values. My honesty, integrity, and goodness in specific situations should flow from my citizenship in God's Kingdom."

Youthful Christians sometimes get hot under the collar at specific ethical guidance. And it probably does need to be clear that Christianity is more than mere wooden conformity to a long list of rules. However, because I have changed "nationalities," my lifestyle will be different from those outside the Kingdom. And that will include the way I dress, my language, and even what I eat and drink. G.I.G.O. -- letters used by early computer geeks when programming errors crept in -- may have been "garbage-in-garbage out" for most people. However, the letters in that acronym can also stand for "godly-in-godly-out."

Don't damage your ecosystem

The word ecosystem is relatively new. It's not even in an older printed dictionary on my shelf. Ecosystem is the label given to a given area and the relationship among all the living and nonliving things in that environment. In describing a particular ecosystem, emphasis must be placed on the contribution that each thing -- living or nonliving -- makes to the system. There is a completeness, a wholeness, to an ecosystem.

The emergence of the ecosystem concept has helped highlight the complex problems that pollution can cause. External pollution entering a balanced ecosystem will often start a destructive chain reaction. Eventually, the whole system may collapse. Recognizing the interdependency that exists in nature reminds us of our responsibility to be stewards -- rather than exploiters -- of God's creation.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus the Messiah never used an "ecosystem" for a parable. At least, no example is recorded in the New Testament. But Jesus did often stress the wholeness of human beings. He pointed out the interdependence connecting our thoughts, our motives, and our actions. For examples of this kind of teaching, take a look at Mark 7 and the last few verses of Mark 9.

For an ecology-conscious world, an ecosystem can be an excellent illustration of spiritual truth. When I describe myself, I can talk about all the different facets of my life. These could include church, hobbies, family life, work, play, sports, music, school, and extracurricular activities. Many of these seem totally unrelated. Yet, in my life, they are all knit together into the tight bundle that is me. What I do with my body, my thought patterns and daydreams, my social behavior, and my performance at school or on the job are all interrelated. Inconsistencies, sloppy ethics, and questionable moral decisions in one area will spill their polluting effects over into the entire me.

Take, for example, cheating in school. If I give in to that temptation, I'll have more to fear than just the punishment by school officials if they catch me.

And on and on the list could go of ways in which one ethical decision can affect many areas of the total me. Obviously, a wrong ethical decision is more than a bothersome pimple on otherwise unblemished skin. It may be more like a cancer deep within.

Ecologists warn us against compartmentalizing. Saying, "It won't matter" is a superficial and often dangerous justification. When it comes to the environment, long-range consequences must always be investigated and weighed. In fact, many large construction projects today can proceed only after a costly "environmental impact statement" has been issued. The purpose of these environmental impact studies is to make federal agencies consider the possible long-term effects on the environment that might result from a project under their jurisdiction.

Maybe we, too, need to occasionally work on some environmental impact statements; especially when it comes to life's key decisions: career, choice of partner, use of leisure time, and the way I spend my energy and money. These decisions need to be approached in light of the possible long-term consequences on the total me.

Living Sacrifices

All this sounds good, huh? Good . . . but perhaps difficult to put into practice. In fact, if we know ourselves as we really are, we may be tempted to think that the radical demands of Jesus exceed our capabilities.

Fortunately, we are not faced with only His demands. God's Word gives us the "how" as well as the "what." Romans 12:1 says it this way: believers are to offer their bodies, or their total selves, as "living sacrifices" to God (NIV). Thus, it becomes clear that the Lord God is not merely demanding something from me. He wants the total me.

Students of Latin may recall that the root of sacrifice means "to make holy." So it is that, in absolute abandonment to God, our whole bodily existence can become holy. Theologians within my tradition call this crisis moment of abandonment "entire sanctification."

We're not talking about starting to attend prayer meetings. Nor do we mean beginning to read our Bible on a regular basis. We're not talking about learning to pray effectively. Rather, we mean committing our entire earthly existence to doing God's will. That will include all of the above. But it is also much more; it is wholeness in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The phrase "living sacrifice" would have been pregnant with meaning for first-century believers. For both Jewish and pagan worshipers of that day, relationship with God meant offering sacrifices. Cain and Abel were the first ones to offer such sacrifices. The Old Testament goes into very specific detail on the divinely ordered sacrifices. The sin offering always came first. Then, and only then, could other offerings be made. These included the burnt offering, emphasizing consecration, and other sacrifices, expressing fellowship and thanksgiving.

The author of Romans, Paul, had been trained in the best Jewish schools of his day. "A Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee" is how he once described himself (Acts 23:6, NIV). That would be like saying he was more American than the flag, motherhood, and apple pie. Paul was an observant Jew. Therefore, the words "offer your bodies as living sacrifices" were much more than parts of a well-formed phrase.

It's possible that Paul was making an intentional parallel with the burnt offering. There are similarities in both the totality of the offering required and in their being offered only after a sin offering had been made.

In other kinds of Jewish sacrifices, various parts of the sacrifice would be eaten by the priests or even by the one who was offering it. Only a portion of the sacrifice was actually consumed on the altar. The burnt offering was different. Here the entire animal was consumed by the altar fire as a sign of complete consecration. In essence, all of the sacrifice ascended to God for a "pleasing aroma" (Exodus 29:18, NIV), as opposed to the stinging smoke that an incomplete consecration would make.

These burnt sacrifices were offered in the Temple twice daily. On the Sabbath, they were doubled, and an extra large burnt sacrifice was offered once a month. Furthermore, it was the fat from the burnt offerings that kept the altar fire burning around the clock. So, in a sense, the burnt offering never ceased.

Knowing all this has made Romans 12:1 clearer to me. The consecration signified by the burnt offering could only be made by someone who had taken care of his sins through the sin offering. So it is here. Paul is not talking about our conversion, about being saved. Here he appeals to the Christian to offer himself in complete consecration. We are not free to keep back part of ourselves to enjoy as we wish. Rather, following our conversion (our sin offering), God expects us to offer our total selves -- relationships, dreams, body, mind, and so on -- to Him (our burnt offering).

What happens then? Well, on the day the Hebrew priests were consecrated in the Sinai, divine fire fell on the Tabernacle altar and consumed the burnt offering (Leviticus 9:24). At the dedication of Solomon's Temple, divine fire fell and consumed the burnt offering (2 Chronicles 7:1). There is a "Pentecostal fire" that will fall on us. Our total self -- social relationships, sexuality, intellect, career, pastimes -- was once polarized, twisted, and warped by sin. This total me is now to be consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. A genuine "living sacrifice" will be totally enveloped by God's sanctifying fire. But all must go on that altar: priorities, values, relationships, dreams, prized possessions, and on and oin. Only then can all be transformed and purified. [more on entire sanctification ]

God Is Not Our Boss

Let's use our work as an illustration. It's possible that some of us may even hate our job. However, there is a paycheck coming. So we force ourselves to put in the hours at McDonald's (or wherever). While on the job, we do try to please the boss, or at least keep her or him from yelling too loudly. We may find ourselves forced to adopt certain work patterns we do not like. But come quitting time, we punch that time clock. And we're free! Our boss no longer controls us.

Satan will tempt us to live our Christianity like that. But it can't be done. If we try it, we can rightly be labeled a "hypocrite." Being a citizen of the kingdom of God is more than trying to satisfy a "spiritual boss" by participating in in everything the chiurch does as well as having daily devotions. True, there is a "paycheck" coming someday. But not because we've put in the right number of hours.

A "living sacrifice" means recognizing that God should rule over our entire life. That's not to say we should turn into "Howie Halo" or "Shelly Sanctimonious." But it does mean being holistic. That's not having holes in our heads. It's simply seeing ourselves as a whole, rather than separate bits and pieces.

Don't ask God where His time clock is. The Christian life isn't a job. It's a worldview and a lifestyle. However, it will be frustratingly impossible to live unless we've taken the step of Romans 12:1 and offered our total selves as "living sacrifices."

On apples and lemons

The New Testament talks about fruit bearing. Jesus mentioned the vine and the branches (John 15). Paul wrote about the "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23).

I did not grow up on a farm. But I did take enough biology in school to learn that a tree doesn't bear apples one year and lemons the next. 4-Hers cannot con me into believing that if a lemon tree gets less sun than normal, it will produce apples. Or, that if it gets too much water, we'll be harvesting bananas.

A lemon tree produces lemons because it's a lemon tree. It's every inch a lemon tree -- not just the fruit itself. Our spiritual fruit ought to reflect the fact that we're every inch a Christian. Certainly, external conditions may somewhat affect the quality of that fruit, but not the type!

An orchard farmer's goal is not to have trees free of worms, blight, and disease (although he does work on that, too). His goal is to produce healthy fruit and lots of it. Similarly, just avoiding all the wrong things is not our goal as Christians. To be sure, some areas are marked off that we ought to stay away from. But as Christians, our ultimate goal is fruit production. When we say no to something, it is so we can produce more and better fruit.

What about us? Do we find ourselves trying to produce both apples and lemons? Being a Christian should not seem strange and uncomfortable. Being a Christian is simply being me in Jesus. It means being the kind of tree that I am. A Spirit-filled "tree" produces the fruit of the Spirit. We are living, decision-making "trees." We have the privilege of each moment committing ourselves as living sacrifices to Him. When we do, He will live His life through us and produce a bumper crop of fruit for His glory.

Dig into the Word:

Questions for discussion:

  1. Jesus noted that a tree is known by its fruit. How does this symbolism apply to us Christians?
  2. In what sense does each of us need to be a "burnt offering"?
  3. How do we sometimes live by a "spiritual time clock" (that is, just what do we perceive to be the necessary minimum)?
  4. What kind of fruit in terms of the characteristics listed in Galatians 5:22-23 is being produced by our group?
  5. What changes should we make?
  6. How do we go about making complete and total consecration of ourselves to God?

1"Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, 'Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.'

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

He went on: "What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come -- sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person." -- Mark 7:14-23

2"And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where 'the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.'

"Everyone will be salted with fire.

"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other." -- Mark 9:47-50

3"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will." -- Romans 12:1-2

4"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words, you will be acquitted, and by your words, you will be condemned." -- Matthew 12:33-37

5"So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

"The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." -- Matthew 5:16-26

From Living Out of the Mold, compiled by Jerry Hull, Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City (now called The Foundry).

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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