We are holy. This is perhaps one of the most difficult theological concepts for Lutherans to come to grips with. The idea that we are holy. It is a rare Lutheran who wants to admit that they are holy or that anything they do is holy. The word holy commonly implies that we are good, and no self respecting Lutheran could ever admit they were good. Not publicly, anyways. Declaring that we are good would be arrogant and prideful even though we generally allow ourselves to think we have the best theology and the finest liturgy.
We generally believe that we can’t BE holy and moreover, we certainly can’t DO anything that would seem to be holy. That would be works righteousness stuff and 500 years ago we had an entire reformation over getting that idea straightened out. There’ll be no earning ourselves anything heaven-like will there be? We’re saved by grace through our faith! Period! End of story! Let’s all go home.
Well… It’s not quite that simple in actual real life, is it? Scripture tells us we are to be holy and our callings are to be holy, no matter how much pushback we give to the idea that we are holy or called to be holy. So what now?
I think it helps if we take a look at what holy really means? What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word holy? I suspect most of us tend to think of holy first and foremost as sinlessness. Being holy means not doing bad things but instead doing good things. Being holy means being that perfect kind of person that never does bad things. It is certainly true that holiness implies a certain goodness but that’s not the entire story.
Being holy also means being set apart. Being holy means being called by God to something. Called to be a pastor. Called to be a farmer/rancher. Called to be an engineer. Called to run a quilting business. Called to take care of the home. Called to…. Called to… What we are set apart to do, what we are called to do, is holy.
How do we navigate the two in any kind of way that makes sense? How do we do good and holy things as good and holy people? That is the question of the ages. Our difficulty with holiness creates two kinds of very interrelated problems.
We get wrapped up in the whole perfection, without sin kind of holy business and recognizing we’re not perfect or without sin we disqualify ourselves from things that God is calling us to. Because you know, we’re not holy enough to do that. We tell ourselves we can’t lead prayers, we tell ourselves we can’t lead Bible studies, we tell ourselves we can’t come near the altar much less help with communion. Because we’re not holy enough! Have you ever heard that? Have you ever said that? You’re not alone.
And when God calls us to ministry things like being a pastor? Oh, not a chance. Or so I told myself for about 10 years because people like me aren’t pastors. I’m a second career pastor who very much enjoyed his first career in computer network engineering and didn’t particularly want to be a pastor. But, God called and here I am even though I said no to God for a decade. I said no to God because I firmly believed that I’m not good enough, I’m not holy enough to be a pastor because pastor types are good and holy types of people. Without going into much detail, let me just say I was very wrong in my thinking. Pastors are regular people just like everyone else.
I’ve been talking about church kind of stuff but our holy callings are limited to church things. Not everyone is called to lead prayers, Bible studies, to serve communion, or be a pastor but we’re all called to something. Think of how many ministry opportunities have gone unanswered because we refused to believe that we are holy by God’s definition of holy. We refused to believe that we have been sanctified in and through Christ because of Christ’s death on the cross.
AND, we refused to believe in and trust God calling us to a ministry.
And when I say ministry, I’m not limiting the idea of ministry to the churchy stuff that we do. That’s certainly ministry but no more than all the other things we do in our day. We generally refer to pastors being called to being pastors but that’s no more of a calling than anyone else. We’re all called to something. What have some of you been called to? Any medical folks? Anyone work in an office? Any lawyers? Anyone in agriculture? Luther was pretty specific that we’re all called to something, we’re all called to a vocation. Each one of us is called to something and that calling is indeed holy. We just forget that sometimes.
It all comes down to one thing and that is the Christ. We are made holy not by anything we can say or do but only by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and because of that sacrifice on our behalf we are called to holy things. We are a forgiven people thanks to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Now the Holy Spirit is taking us into the world in our response to the gift of God’s grace.