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True Christian, True Church (no. 6)

Holiness In and Out

May 15, 2008

Saying For Today: Possibly, along with prayer, intentional, sacrificial service is the most effective spiritual discipline in developing interior and exterior consecration to the Sacred Love.


I Peter 2.1-12 (CEV)

1Stop being hateful! Quit trying to fool people, and start being sincere. Don't be jealous or say cruel things about others. 2Be like newborn babies who are thirsty for the pure spiritual milk that will help you grow and be saved. 3You have already found out how good the Lord really is.

4Come to Jesus Christ. He is the living stone that people have rejected, but which God has chosen and highly honored. 5And now you are living stones that are being used to build a spiritual house. You are also a group of holy priests, and with the help of Jesus Christ you will offer sacrifices that please God. 6It is just as God says in the Scriptures,

"Look! I am placing in Zion

a choice and precious

cornerstone.

No one who has faith

in that one

will be disappointed."

7You are followers of the Lord, and that stone is precious to you. But it isn't precious to those who refuse to follow him. They are the builders who tossed aside the stone that turned out to be the most important one of all. 8They disobeyed the message and stumbled and fell over that stone, because they were doomed.

9But you are God's chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation. God has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Now you must tell all the wonderful things that he has done. The Scriptures say,

10"Once you were nobody.

Now you are God's people.

At one time no one

had pity on you.

Now God has treated you

with kindness.

11Dear friends, you are foreigners and strangers on this earth. So I beg you not to surrender to those desires that fight against you. 12Always let others see you behaving properly, even though they may still accuse you of doing wrong. Then on the day of judgment, they will honor God by telling the good things they saw you do.

* * *

In the first of this series, we asked a question arising from the I Peter text: "Who are we?" Then, we asked a second question, "If that is who we are, what is our function?" I addressed the first and, then, second and third of five actions. In the last writing, I spoke of the fourth function of witnessing.

I, again, give the functions in the I Peter passage, quoting from the Scriptures:

1) Come to Jesus Christ.

2) And now you are living stones that are being used to build a spiritual house.

3) You are also a group of holy priests, and with the help of Jesus Christ you will offer sacrifices

that please God.

4) Now you must tell all the wonderful things that he has done.

5) Always let others see you behaving properly, even though they may still accuse you of doing wrong.

The Peter writer has reminded us that we are a people, "living stones," the Spirit is using to construct a spiritual temple. A temple needs priests. We are, hence, a temple in process and a holy priesthood. Again, identity precedes function.

One of the offerings we holy priests offer is a witness to Christ. We do this to those in the Church; the true Christian witnesses of his or her faith to others in the Body of Christ. By this, we encourage each other. Likewise, we witness to those outside the true Church ~ among them may be persons who have joined "a church" but are not "in Christ." Yes, one of the greatest mission fields might be many active in churches but never reborn in Spirit, not a member of the Church.

Now, the writer of I Peter affirms the role of ethics in the Christian life. We are to "behaving properly." Others are to see us acting this way, even if they accuse us wrongly.

Holiness substantially is a word meaning "being set apart." Other words for "holy" are "sanctified" and "consecrated." Note these powerful references to sanctification:

25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

*Ephesians 5.25-27, ESV

22Abstain from every form of evil.

23Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

*I Thessalonians 5.22-24, ESV

Notice, we are to be holy "completely," in "whole spirit and soul and body." Therefore, the passage shows us the call for an alliance between the outer and inner. "Spirit" and "soul" refer to inner aspects, while "body" refers to the outer aspect.

Jesus refers to this essentialness of inner sanctification, or inner mortification.

23You Pharisees and teachers are show-offs, and you're in for trouble! You give God a tenth of the spices from your garden, such as mint, dill, and cumin. Yet you neglect the more important matters of the Law, such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These are the important things you should have done, though you should not have left the others undone either. 24You blind leaders! You strain out a small fly but swallow a camel.

25You Pharisees and teachers are show-offs, and you're in for trouble! You wash the outside of your cups and dishes, while inside there is nothing but greed and selfishness.

*Matthew 23.23-25, CEV

The Renovare movement has as one of it essential nine values the virtue of service. Why would I connect service and holiness? Renovare has regarding service: "This means daily crucifixion. It involves the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves" (www.renovare.org).

As a United Methodist pastor I am blessed to be in full-time, professional, intentional ministry of serving persons daily. I find that when I am serving others, especially those in great need emotionally, physically, or spiritually, it is a death to myself. The serving is not an annihilation of self; for the divine Spirit uses me as a unique instrument, with the personality, gifts, and graces gifted me. Those I serve are my teachers, they help me to develop character by the sacrifices they call me to in the name of Love. Some of my tasks are sweet, some are contrary to my wishes, but Love makes no choice between the two.

What I say about myself as pastor refers to all true Christians. Possibly, along with prayer, intentional, sacrificial service is the most effective spiritual discipline in developing interior and exterior consecration to the Sacred Love.

The character of the individual Christian joins with other members of Christ to give a witness to the character of the whole community of faith. The writer addresses these ethics and reflects the struggles within the churches and the resolution:

1Stop being hateful! Quit trying to fool people, and start being sincere. Don't be jealous or say cruel things about others. 2Be like newborn babies who are thirsty for the pure spiritual milk that will help you grow and be saved. 3You have already found out how good the Lord really is.

Now, to us contemplatives. The danger of contemplation would appear to be a self-focus that takes one from the needs of the world. This is no danger. First, contemplation is exactly the opposite of the self-focus that reigns in much that is called prayer and worship, as well as service. Contemplation is the union of the True Self with the True God. True contemplation so leads one into union with Grace that the contemplative is lead out to share that intimacy through his or her be-ing and acts, including outstanding personal character traits.

Contemplation is a most effective means of deep interior mortification of the false self, what Paul called "the flesh," or sarx. Contemplation is an absolute relinquishment into God-Within and a silent confession of the ultimate need of divine Grace.

* * *

This ends this present series ~ "True Christian, True Church." Thank you for sharing this journey with me. After today, I return to the usual format of a separate writing each time. Later, we may do another series.

* * *

*Brian K. Wilcox lives with his wife, Rocio, their two dogs, St. Francis and Bandit Ty, and their fish, Hope, in Florida. Brian is vowed at Greenbough House of Prayer, a contemplative Christian community in Georgia. He lives a contemplative life and inspires others to experience a deeper relationship with Christ. He advocates for a spiritually-focused Christianity and the renewal of the focus of the Church on addressing the deeper spiritual needs and longings of persons and empathic relating with diverse spiritual traditions, East and West.

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