Holiness is not an accumulation of good things; holiness is a daily choice to see the world with fresh eyes and intention.
Who is most sober?
My first church to serve as pastor was in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. One night, the Men’s 12-step group of Alcoholics Anonymous asked me to stop by their group. I did and they were a jovial group of men in our fellowship hall, welcoming and gently ribbing the young pastor of their host church (I was 26 at the time). It was an amazing evening of stories and accountability, raw emotion and measured approach–and all very new to this wide-eyed pastor.
One conversation I had there has remained with me to this day. One of the old-timers there asked “Pastor, tell me: who do you think is the most sober one here tonight?”
I said “the one who has been sober the longest?”
“No,” the man said. “The one who has been sober the longest today.”
Reset, Reboot, or Refresh?
Like being the “most sober,” I think holiness is about hitting the “refresh” button on your life every day and seeking to live out God’s blessings in your life daily.
In computer terms, there’s a big difference between the three “R” words:
- To reset an electronic device is to return it to its factory-created conditions. This will remove all previous adaptions or upgrades and return it back to how it came out of the package.
- To reboot an electronic device is to turn it off and turn it on again. It will go back to the state it was in with more power, or the state that it defaults to upon powering-up without the extra baggage.
- To refresh an electronic device is to clear its memory and to renew its operating power, while keeping it from rebooting or resetting. Likewise, to refresh as webpage is to clear the one you had loaded so that the new one is completely fresh and up-to-date.
For some traditions, the Christian life is just about the first two Rs: being saved reboots your life into a new state where new life is possible (salvation), and you maintain vigilance to keep from resetting so that you return to your sinful self (backsliding). But for most traditions, there’s some concept of how each day offers a chance to build on one’s rightful living–but how to do that without “works righteousness” whereby we are saved (or build on our salvation) through actions instead of faith alone?
I think refreshing is the best term for that concept because it does allow for one to “be” in a different place at the end of the day as a result of continued striving to be a holy person. But since everything is “refreshed” the next day, the person cannot rely on these actions to have him/her “earn” laurels or merits to relax upon.
I wonder what “refreshing” looks like in practice?
Daily, Methodical Choices
In 1729, John Wesley and his brother Charles had the same sentiment about daily holiness. They started a club at their university at Oxford. Their “Holy Club” had an odd practice: they would daily ask themselves 22 questions, and would keep a log of what they did each day–in 15 minute increments, I believe. They daily examined their lives and kept on doing tasks such as visiting those in the hospital or in prison.
This Holy Club was made fun of by fellow students for their methodical lives so much that the name stuck–and the name Methodist was born and applied to them and their future renewal movement within the Church of England.
For the Wesley brothers, it wasn’t enough for Christians to be saved, to think good thoughts on Sundays, or to tithe money at their funerals. The point was to live a life of intention, and to not waste time that could otherwise be used for God’s call to mercy and justice. By daily examination and regular social structures, the early Methodists proved that lives lived with intention could be powerfully effective lives as well, for God’s glory.
Hit Refresh Daily
Both the AA group and the Wesley brothers have hit upon a human truth: true transformation is the result of daily living and choices. But both also recognize that sobriety and holiness are not decisions that were made in the past: they are the result of choices every day. To live intentionally either to overcome the disease of addiction or the disease of sin requires personal fortitude and community.
My hope is that you also find ways to seek holiness but hit “refresh” as well. To be thankful of the way how Christian service to others gets easier the more you do it, and yet starting each day knowing you’ve hit “refresh” on yesterday’s goals allows you to not rest on them. There will be slow days and days when it just doesn’t all come together–but don’t worry, since this isn’t works righteousness, hitting refresh deletes the bad days as well as the good!
Stop Saving the Best for Last…or the Past
In closing, Skillet is a popular Christian rock band and one of their hit singles “One Day Too Late” includes these lyrics that apply to this conversation:
Today I’m gonna love my enemies
Reach out to somebody who needs me
Make a change, make the world a better place
‘Cause tomorrow could be one day too late
Your time is running out
You’re never gonna get it back
Make the most of every moment
Stop saving the best for last
May we all seek a holiness that endures, that does more, that isn’t a day late or a dollar short, and that is ready to leap on opportunities to serve and to tell. A holiness that gives its first fruits, and pounds itself raw on the gates of justice for all people.
But then, let that holiness be refreshed. Acknowledged, certainly, but not rested upon. Transformed, certainly, but not immutably so. Refreshed, certain, but not reset or forgotten. And may we all turn to communities and circles to guide us when we fall short.