(Excerpted from chapter two of Keepers of the Way)
We should, I think, refresh for ourselves this word holiness, and take away from it the “holier than thou” connotation it sometimes carries. We must reset it again in our vocabulary as something worthy of our pursuit and, biblically speaking, something possible and to be expected in the life of faith. We are set apart by God and we live for Him—never flawless, but wholehearted and holy, always growing and by God’s Spirit getting better at choosing what is right and saying no to the wrong. That is absolutely possible. It must be, if we are to become people who are “eager to do what is good.” That’s a great description of living with and in holiness, thinking of it not simply as moral perfection but rightly as continuous improvement. Doing right, yes, but also doing good.
This is what Paul’s talking about in Romans where, again, the blessing of baptism captures the core of this truth so well. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4) Just as Jesus was “buried” in that tomb—and didn’t stay there long—so we and our old self and our former life are buried—dead and gone—under the water in baptism. And just as Jesus was raised from death and from that tomb so He raises us from those waters and our old self and our former life to live a new life. “New life.” I love the sound of that. It’s the promise of the Gospel and the point of holiness.
In such newness and holiness, we see the preciousness and beauty of a life lived well by following Jesus. As we encounter Jesus, we see the contrast of our old life and decide to turn around and head a new direction, His direction.
So we walk the line, keep to the Way, because it’s so good. It’s not an agonizing trudging. The wind of the Spirit is at our backs and the energy of a renewed heart brings spring to our step. It’s not a stringent duty, but a joyful following, a conscious choosing of what’s right and good. Before, we couldn’t do it; now, we can.
“I’ve got to,” we used to tell ourselves. Now we happily realize, “I get to.” We get to live life as God intended it. We were powerless to do that without Him, now this Way is available to us. Now we see it as the resplendent thing it is, purchased by Jesus, paved by His sacrificial love, and offered to us. This is the perspective of the Resistance.
But let’s be honest, this perspective isn’t always clear to us. There’s a fog of false thinking that obscures our view. Its theme goes like this: Because of grace, we needn’t concern ourselves much with ethical living or integrity of character. Discerning what’s right and what’s not is futile. All is forgiven. “God is love” and “Judge not” are the favorite scriptural snippets of those who slip into this way of thinking, one certainly finding popularity today.
Does grace give us permission to ignore what the Grace-giver says about life and how to live it? Of course not. It makes no sense when it’s put that way. But such easy-believism can be tempting to us all. As A.W. Tozer once observed several decades ago, it is really a heretical lie:
A notable heresy has come into being throughout evangelical Christian circles—the widely accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need him as Savior and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to him as Lord as long as we want to!1
Grace frees us to obey Jesus, not from obeying Him. He’s not laying on us how we should live, but laying out for us how to live—and live well. We keep to the Way not to earn His favor but to learn His wisdom. As Dallas Willard unforgettably put it,
Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort. …The true saint burns grace like a 747 burns fuel on takeoff. Become the kind of person who routinely does what Jesus did and said. You will consume much more grace by leading a holy life than you will by sinning.2
Instead of seeing grace as only that which erases our guilt, we must see it more fully as that which empowers our holiness.
As keepers of the Way we live out our baptisms and cut through this cloud of confused theology. We’re learning what repentance means. It’s not feeling sorry yet continuing to choose our own way. The Bible calls that mere worldly sorrow that leads to death. Godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). And repentance leads to life (Acts 11:18). There is a right and wrong. Finding the right and rejecting the wrong is a beautiful thing, a vital step toward thriving as human beings, and the very definition of joining the Resistance and walking the line.
Tragically, the beauty of the Way of repentance isn’t appreciated by all. That’s always been true. This proverb captures the reality of the situation well:
The stupid ridicule right and wrong, but a moral life is a favored life. (Proverbs 14:9 MSG)
Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright. (NIV)
Fools laugh at sin, but the favor of God is among the faithful. (NLV)
These are not laughing matters. I believe this is not only a description of our world today, but the cause of an incalculable amount of suffering. It is also the epitome of human pride. Those of us who still perceive there’s a right and a wrong and the Bible has something to say about that are considered idiots, mocked for taking sin seriously. “What an outdated and old-fashioned concept,” some might say. “Get with the times. It’s the twenty-first century.”
But such modernized morality is proven foolish by its fruit. The Way of Jesus, though ancient, is brilliant. It is the way to life, and we’ve made it our way of life.
1A.W. Tozer, I Call It Heresy (Harrisburg, Penn: Christian Publications, 1974), 5.
2Dallas Willard, The Great Omission (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), 34, 62.