The Last Supper - James Tissot

Holiness as Love

As Lent approaches an end this year and as we stumble along with the cross of Christ, I am reminded that if I do not love, I cannot become holy. As a substitute teacher I encounter more strange and difficult situations than ever, more than when I was in middle school myself! On Thursday, I was broadsided with this fact. I'm always amazed at how tempers flare within me. I can feel them rise and it takes all my effort to put the fire out. On this particular day, out of the blue, I was literally broadsided from a student, who with all purpose got in my face and pushed me. I was just walking along. I think he was showing off and thought he was being funny.

Yes, it was very strange. I felt my temper flare, but I closed my eyes and guided him to a chair, sat him down and walked away. He complied. After a couple of minutes, I went back to him and explained, "You just don't get into someone's face. It makes anger well up within them." The honest truth is that he may not have fully realized what he was doing. Many youth are influenced by a lack of respect for authority these days inside or outside their homes. So, that was at 2:30 pm.

It's really easy to forgive a student for their wild and unpredictable behavior. And in some way, I can take the blame for the behavior of others. I'm a sinner and I'm in the Family of Man. There is chain reaction to sin. Even if I don't think my sin affects others, it does, however remotely.

Then at around 7 pm, I had the same thing happen, but this time with a seventy-plus year-old adult! Now, he didn't get in my face physically, but an uncalculated, slip of the tongue had the same effect. I was livid in my heart. I probably even overreacted because the subject was so dear to me. But for the second time in the day, my temper flared. This time I fell on my knees and prayed to Jesus. Again, he may not have fully realized the impact of what he was saying. It is interesting how people's hearts are revealed by slips of their tongues. However, we are not privy to the depth of the meaning we see in people's hearts. I have learned the hard way that even if we think people's hearts are telling us something, we cannot know their hearts. God does not give us access to another person's heart. So, we must not judge. We also must not judge because we end up judging ourselves in the process. We are they.

But even after an apology from him, my heart was not right. Going to sleep, I did not have love. Waking up, I did not have love. Through out the day, I did not have love. When I don't have love, God is not in me. John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," makes this clear in his first letter.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:7-12

It's easy to love those who love us when we get something out of it, especially when our life is not on the line, nor our reputation. But the truest test of love is when we can love the one who 'gets in our face'. When we truly love, we are wearing Christ's robes.

All Christians should heed the words of John. Listen to these lines carefully: "Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." Have you met a non-Christian who has sincerely loved you? John says that we can only love when God is in us. Two questions come to mind: (a) Does God inhabit non-Christians who are able to love? Or (b) are non-Christians never able to love. Be really careful how you answer those questions. The questions I pose may actually not have answers that are comprehensible by the human mind. In many ways, God is a mystery.

John goes on to explain in verse 19, "We love because he first loved us." As I have learned recently, I can't be holy on my own. If I am ever holy, it is only because who I am, but because of who I become when I am in him. Holiness is not one of my native character trait. Likewise, I can't love with that self-sacrificing love without God living in me. We must understand this or we may start giving ourselves the credit—the glory. Then we tread in dangerous waters. We may become our own god.

John also stresses, "Whoever loves God must also love his brother." I like the way he has explained Jesus' command from John 13:34 in the simplest terms. It's important that we not define "brother" as only Christian brothers or sisters. Brother means any person.

So, how did I end up forgiving the older man, who just happened to be a church representative, for his slip of tongue? For me and for many of us, when a representative of the church does something wrong, we can easily apply their sin to the Church herself, which is the body of Christ. But we cannot do that. The Church is sinless. God's people are sinners. There's a big difference. What I have found is that I must keep going to church. I must keep walking with Christ among his people with that faith that the grace of God's spirit—the yeast of the kingdom of heaven—will work through dough and transform his children (and their structures, if I may add). But mostly I must profess forgiveness, even if I don't feel it, even if all I feel is hate. And when I feel that hate, and I use that term in it's broadest and strongest sense, we must ask God on our knees to forgive us. For hate of others comes only from the evil one.

Knowing that we are sinners and that we are forgiven, heals and transforms all participants in sin. And that is what confession of sins is all about. We lay our sins on Jesus, even if we don't feel resolved about them. We place them at the foot of his cross. He wore them in his stripes and in his agony on the cross. And in his resurrections, he takes our sins and transforms them for his glory into his good.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

Tags: holiness