I’m Going Deeper Underground
There’s too much panic in this Town
I’m Going Deeper Underground
Well I got to go deeper, got to go much deeper, yeah [1]

In my last post I began to introduce a new series of blog posts examining the purpose of our journey with Jesus, to become like him, perfect in love. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is what everyone wants – no one who loses their temper with their kids, or gossips at work, or shout at the person cutting them up thinks: ‘Yes. This is what I was created to be like.’ Becoming like Jesus seems a much more attractive alternative.

Before we jump in to thinking about how we should behave in particular situations – The Only Way is Ethics – we need to think about what underpins our search and that’s what I’m going to look at in this post.

Foundations

One way of imagining our journeys towards wholeness and healing in our souls is to think of the construction of a building. This is one of the pictures that St Peter uses when writing to the churches that he cared for about the changes in their lives he hoped for:

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.[2]

I find this a really helpful picture. I love watching things being built. I suspect it’s a hangover from my childhood living in a village where there was a lot of development with new homes being built, then having a father who was obsessed with Grand Designs, and finally working as a construction lawyer the City of London where there was one huge project after another going up. Now I build a lot of lego.

One of the things I’ve noticed over time watching construction sites, particularly big ones, is how much time is spent on site before a the building gets above the floor. The thing that takes time is not so much building up but digging down; it is the foundations that are most important. The thing that underpins the building is crucial: if there is something there that shouldn’t be, or of something is missing, or if you don’t dig into the right soil, then the whole building will eventually collapse.

It is the same way with our souls, with the pursuit of holiness. We can’t make simply make a list of things we like (even raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens or warm woollen mittens). Wholeness in our souls is rooted in who God is and what he is like. As St Peter says: ‘But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”’[3]

To put it another way, God is both the beginning and the end of our journey.

There are two ways in which God is separate that are particularly important when we start to think about this. First, God is holy because he is the Creator and therefore he separate from his creation. Second, God is holy because he is sovereign – the one who sits in authority over all creation. [4]

God is the Creator

Christians believe that God created the world from nothing. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.[5]

This is not a comment on how God made the universe. Many able and sincere Christians hold to different positions on the mechanism used – the big-bang, evolution by natural selection and so on. The ‘how’ is not a central concern of Christian faith. What is important is that there is a God, he is the ultimate power and mind behind everything – he is the Creator – and he is different, and separate, from the thing he has made.

God is uniquely holy because he is different, separate from, the rest of creation. He isn’t a thing. He isn’t the biggest and most powerful being in all creation because he isn’t a part of creation – he is unlike anything he has made. To put it another way, only God is God.

God’s character is the absolute standard for everything else. To truly become like God, to be changed to be perfect in love, we have to recognise that God’s character, and nothing else in the world, is the standard to which we aspire.

When we put something from the creation in the place of God – when we imitate and dedicate our lives to something other than him, whether that’s career success, the passing fashions of our culture, a particular vision of perfect motherhood, or being ripped like the Hoff, or anything else, we are not truly pursuing holiness at all. The irony is that these visions promise so much but they can never deliver because in the end they are part of creation, fallible and fallen, just like us. They are not transcendent, they are just another created thing.

It’s like setting off with a compass that doesn’t find true north or a broken sat-nav – it might be only a little bit out but the further we go through life, the further we progress along the journey, the further and further we drift from our true destination. We are pursuing a flawed, degraded reproduction of love, and not the real thing. To truly become like Jesus we need to recognise that only God is God – that only he is true pattern to imitate.

God is Sovereign

Second, God is sovereign. I don’t mean by this that God controls everything down to the choices we make – that is a conversation we can have on another day. What I mean here is that God is sovereign in that he reigns over everything – he is in charge. God is different because he is the one who is in charge.

When St John had his vision of the worship going on in heaven, he recorded that the angels around God’s throne ‘never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”’

God is holy because he is the Almighty. He is the one who is in charge of everything else, the one with whom the buck stops, the one who gets to call time on everything. This means that God is the one who gets to set the rules. Before we ask what we should live like – how we should treat others – we have to know that God is the one who gets the final answer.

If we want to become holy we need to begin by accepting that we don’t get to say what is OK and what isn’t. That is a really hard thing to do. It means surrendering the right to determine what is good for us and what is not. It means accepting that at times we may not completely understand why we need to do, or not do, something but being willing to submit our choices to God. Whatever I think, it needs to come into line with what he thinks.

Separation Overcome

We’ve considered how God is uniquely holy because he is separate  from everything else both as creator and sovereign but this can lead us to a kind of despairing distance from him.

If God is separate from us, defined by his distance, then what hope do we have of being united with him? Moreover, how can he really understand or help us and how can we be like him?

The answer is Jesus.

Christians believe that when Jesus was born, God was bridging the gap between himself and humanity. First of all by uniting God with us: the Creator became a part of the creation, uniting the two together in himself. God became one of us, and lived with us, bringing heaven to earth.

Second by uniting us with God. In Jesus God shared our humanity, raising the possibility that not only can God be holy, but that so can we.

When we see Jesus we see the possibility of a human life lived as it was intended to be.

The coming of Christ raises the possibility that humanity can indeed share God’s nature. That we can be different, that we are not doomed to repeat the same sin endlessly, that there is hope for a better future.

By living as One of us, he changed who we are and who we can be.

So What For Me?

What does all of this actually mean for our lives now?

First, we should examine our own hearts. What do we aspire to be like, what do we value and humble ourselves before? What do we give our life to? Whatever it is, that is what we will become like. If it isn’t God then we should ask that he changes us so that we start to want him.

Second, we can ask ourselves whether we are truly willing to allow him to determine what is right for us or whether we are still clinging to the right to decide for ourselves – to pray, ‘Thy will be done, not my will be done.’

Finally, we can receive the hope, restoration and forgiveness that is promised by Jesus.

Why not find a Christian or a church you can go to and ask someone to pray with you or pick up a gospel and start to pray? It could be the first step on a wonderful journey.

Helpful Resources

You can find a book of 9 reflections covering the material I’ll be sharing in these posts by clicking here that can be worked through as part of a small group or on your own. You can also check out our website to hear talks on the same subject.

If you’re interested in reading more, here are some of the resources I have found particularly helpful and which I have used to prepare these articles.

  • John Oswalt’s book, Called to Be Holy[1], is a very helpful study of what holiness means beginning at the start of the Bible and working all the way through to practical questions.
  • Tom Oden’s Classic Christianity[2] is huge both in its significance (hint: it should be on every pastor’s bookshelf) and weight (it’s massive). Oden tries to present consensual Christian teaching as broadly and clearly as he can. His section on ancient views of sanctification is very helpful.
  • Allan Coppedge’s textbook, Portraits of God: A Biblical Theology of Holiness,[3] is heavy going but has some brilliant insights.
  • Let’s Start with Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology[4] by Dennis Kinlaw is a short and very readable book that has a (correct) emphasis on Jesus as the starting point for everything we know about God.

Finally, Tom Oden’s John Wesley’s Teachings, Volume 2: Christ and Salvation[5] is an excellent introduction to Wesley and his approach.

[1] ‘Deeper Underground’, Jason Kay, Toby Smith © 1998, Epic.

[2] 1 Peter 2:4-5

[3] 1 Peter 1:15-16.

[4] For a wider discussion see John N Oswalt, Called to Be Holy (Nappanee, IN: Evangel, 1999), p.9-20 and Allan Coppedge, Portraits of God: A Biblical Theology of Holiness (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2001 Kindle Edition), loc. 537-564.

[5] Hebrews 11:2

[1] John N. Oswalt, Called to be Holy (Nappanee, IN: FAP, 1999)

[2] Oden, Thomas C.. Classic Christianity: Systematic Theology (HarperCollins Kindle Edition, 2009)

[3] Coppedge, Allan, Portraits of God: A Biblical Theology of Holiness (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2001)

[4] Kinlaw, Dennis F, Let’s Start with Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology (Zondervan Kindle Edition, 2005)

[5] Oden, Thomas C.. John Wesley’s Teachings, Volume 2: Christ and Salvation (Zondervan Kindle Edition, 2012)

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