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Half the Story

Generationally, I sit in a curious place.

I look back to my father’s generation and remember how they wrestled with matters of holiness. They took the subject seriously and for the most part wanted to please the Lord, but often ended up at the wrong conclusions.

As a kid, growing up in our home in South Africa, we had lists of “do’s” and “don’ts” that qualified as holiness.

Scholars today call them holiness codes.

• No movies or theaters
• Modest dress codes applying mostly to the women
• No smoking or alcoholic beverages
• No anything on Sundays, except church
• No playing cards

The problem is that holiness codes can be arbitrary, culturally defined and need not have anything to do with the condition of our hearts towards God.

I remember, as a teenager, when the Ten Commandments movie came to South Africa, that I begged my Dad to let me go on the grounds that it was about the Bible. He said no, because of the generally worldly environment of the theater and the unsaved people patronizing the theater.

It wasn’t a year later that our family attended a day of auto racing at the Roy Heskith Circuit, then outside of Pietermaritzburg.

As I looked around the grandstands it dawned on me that these were the same kinds of people who would have been at the theater to watch the Ten Commandments.

When I respectfully pointed this out to my Dad, he responded that the difference was that the races were outdoors.

I left it there.

That’s the danger inherent in holiness lists.

But now, looking at the spiritual landscape around me today, I see and hear almost no call for holiness of any sort.

I hear a lot about grace.

Grace that forgives.

Grace that restores.

Grace for second chances, third chances, fourth chances… to infinity.

Grace like a safety net that allows you to engage in any kind of risky behavior and promises to catch you before you hit the ground.

I understand that the current grace emphasis is a needed message to counteract despair, hopelessness and the general notion that God is perpetually displeased even angry with me.

But what I am hearing strikes me as dangerously only half of the story. We are only being given the forensic half of the grace message… dealing with the penalty and brokenness of relationship with God resulting from sin.

The second half of the grace message is missing, namely the grace that “renews our hearts in the image of God.” (John Wesley)

It is the grace that results in the “new creation” of 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Or, in the Apostle Peter’s words, “to be holy in all you do.” (1 Peter 1:15)

That’s a heart growing in love from God, for God, and translating into loving attitudes and actions for those in our lives, starting with family, and radiating out in our circles of relationship.

Grace cannot just be a “get out of hell” free pass. It has to effectively make us holy.