Saturday, August 22, 2009

What is Holiness? What is a saint?

In a word, holiness is Christlikeness. Holiness is being conformed to the Image of the Son (Romans 8:29). Holiness is even more than mnerely being conformed to Christ’s image; it is being filled with His Spirit. Holiness is when Christ Himself is living and breathing in the flesh and bones of one of His followers. When you meet a very holy person, you are truly, literally encountering Christ in him or her; hence, you want to fall at this person’s feet (but of course, he won’t let you); you want to weep for joy. You love him or her right away, and you know very quickly that he or she loves you more deeply than anyone else you’ve ever met, including your spouse, although with a different sort of love than that.

A saint a holy person; that is, one in whom Christ is clearly manifest. That’s it.

But there are a lot of misconceptions floating around about holiness, about what a saint is. The most popular one seems to be that a saint is an extremely devout person. But you can be super-religious, attending services twice a day and three times on Sunday, and still not be holy (Christlike). We’ve probably all known people like that, who accomplish little more than to test the patience of the people around them.

A person can preach beautiful sermons and still not be holy. A man I know was widely admired for his eloquent sermons – until the congregation discovered his boyfriend. A person can even preach, or write, great-sounding stuff about love, but unless his life actually manifests that love, he is, as St. Paul said, a clanging brass, or a tinkling cymbal, no more.

You can be a brilliant thinker and writer of theology, and still not be holy, still miss the mark, which is Christ.

You can be highly influential, towering over your age, dishing out advice to pope, patriarch, and king, without being holy. You can fast until you die, and do it all for a misguided, subconsciour motive.

You can be a kind and gentle person and still be stuffed to the gills with pride.

You can do heroic deeds, work wonders, serve the poor until you drop from exhaustion, give your body to be burned, have faith that could move mountains, and still not be holy.

There are numerous prominent figures of European history who have been called saints, who bore little or no resemblance to Christ. They are bogus; they may be great, illustrious, learned, influential, deeply religious, heroic, what have you, but they are not saints; no way are they saints.