Holiness. It’s a concept that’s really out of style in the larger culture (which is not surprising given the current cultural conditions). While it’s not surprising that the world has lost any notion of what holiness means, it’s quite troubling that there’s a whole generation of Christians who also have no clue what it means to be holy and why it matters.
Tyler Braun understands the problem well because he’s experienced it himself. He knows that holiness is not about a list of rules or some long-forgotten ideal, but the warp and woof of the Christian faith. In his new book, Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost our Way–But We Can Find it Again, Braun unpacks the call to holiness with the right balance of urgency and charity for the Millennial generation.
New Affections Leading to New Behavior
Perhaps most helpful is how Braun defines holiness from the outset. “Holiness is new affections, new desires, and new motives that then lead to new behavior,” he writes (p. 12). Here Braun cuts right to the heart of the issue: behavior modification vs. heart transformation. Holiness is not about external righteousness seeking to earn salvation; nor is it having a “relationship” with Jesus that doesn’t lead to new actions. It’s a response to the Holy One who calls us to be holy as He is holy.
Yet, this is the problem we see over and over again in the church, a problem Braun illustrates to great effect using his own story and examples from others. We don’t take the call to holiness seriously because we don’t see sin as something that seriously needs to be dealt with. That’s why some can say, “Well, I don’t get drunk too often, just on weekends,” or “Yeaaaah, I guess I shouldn’t be watching stuff like that, but I don’t do it all the time.” We minimize sin and fool ourselves into believing it’s going to be okay. Here’s how Braun puts it:
The problem with justifying ourselves like this is we tend to look at sin as a neutral object, something ont for us or against us, just a reality of life. . . . Next Christians show their lack of holiness by accepting sin as a way of life instead of an evil to be overcome (p. 14, 15)
Braun’s argument takes readers through a basic (but helpful) examination of holiness and its relationship to innocence, wrath, shame, love, values, community, mission and artistry. Among the most challenging aspects is his take on how Christians value (or rather don’t) innocence:
In a Christian culture that does not value innocence, it is no wonder our generation is often indistinguishable from the culture around it. We’ve simply been taught bye our culture that life experience is the most valuable thing a person can have. (pp. 22-23)
There is so much that this speaks to—among them, the rampant sexual immorality and pluralistic and humanist thinking that’s seeped into the church. This is an extremely provocative assessment. And an accurate one. If we valued a holy innocence, what would our teaching on sexuality look like? Would it expand beyond “wait until you’re married” and begin to dig deeper into how to honor God in that aspect of our lives? Regardless of your generation, this is a point that needs to be stressed.
What is “Love”?
As much as I appreciated the book, there were a few places where Braun overstates his case just a bit. His chapter on mission contains arguably the most significant examples. He writes:
Jesus, in His obedience to the Father and His free gift given to us, did not offer Himself with strings attached. He simply asked us to follow Him. Jesus never told us to “love your neighbor as yourselves but make sure you convert them.” He just told us to love people. If the people we make intentional decisions to love and serve never come to faith in Christ, will we still make an effort to love them? Anything but an answer of yes becomes bait-and-switch evangelism where we use service, activism, and neighborly love to get people to faith. (p. 112)
I get (I think) what Braun’s trying to say, but there’s a significant issue here (and one I believe to be totally unintentional). Yes, we should be intentional about serving others regardless of whether or not they come to faith in Christ, absolutely. If we throw up our hands and say, “you’re not worth my time because you’re not responding the way I had expected,” that reveals something dark about our own hearts. But is it fair not to (apparently) suggest that the desire to evangelize somehow cheapens service? I’m not so sure.
I think the key issue is a distinction between “loving people” and “evangelism” that Jesus doesn’t make. He didn’t “just” tell us to love people; He told us to make disciples. A key aspect of that is serving those who are not believers, necessarily includes sharing with them the only news that can reconcile them with their Creator and allow them to escape His just wrath for their rebellion. If we don’t come in with that “agenda” then are we truly being loving?
Holiness matters. We are most certainly living in a time where we’ve lost our way, but it’s possible to find our way again. I love the desire that Braun expresses in Why Holiness Matters. It’s a challenging read in all the right ways and one that, whether you’re young or old, you’ll find much to benefit from.
Title: Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost our Way–But We Can Find it Again
Author: Tyler Braun
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2012)