Humankind is chosen of God to reflect the image of God. What an awesome truth! This is the major vein of Christian holiness teaching.
The image finds expression in a four-fold relationship:
1. To God. This relationship is what makes us human beings (Genesis 1:26).
2. To Others. God's word admonishes us to "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31).
3. To Self. In holy living, we put ourselves in proper relationship with God and others (Hebrews 12:14),
4. To the Earth. God calls and empowers humankind to preserve His creation (Genesis 2:15).
Christian holiness offers the basis for a clear, coherent message that is compelling to all generations.
Seekers of God are drawn to the integrative force of the holiness doctrine and lifestyle. Churches that embrace the realities of this holiness doctrine and lifestyle are positioned to become catalysts for spiritual renewal and growth in the Christian church.
What are some of the descriptors of Christian holiness?
Believers are set apart to be His special people. Christ's followers "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world," because "They are not of the world, even as I am not of it," Jesus said (Romans 12:2, John 17:16).
What is worldliness? It is more than what one does. Worldliness is not restricted to those "in the world." It is also among the most troublesome challenges in the church. Whatever we love or live for more than Christ is "of the world." The Spirit-filled heart does not take on the spirit of this present age. When character is transformed, changes happen to our direction—our lives, our behavior, our conversations, our destination.
The work of Christ is being formed in us. In the Upward Call: Spiritual Formation and the Holy Life by Weigelt, Freeborn, and Tartaglia, we learn, "Spiritual formation is the whole person in relationship with God, within the community of believers, growing in Christlikeness, reflected in a Spirit-directed, disciplined lifestyle, and demonstrated in redemptive action in our world."
And, I might add, character continues to be transformed in His likeness. Tradition is never at the heart of holiness. The "blessing" is always fresh. The journey is always transformational. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "We submit to being transformed into his image." This relationship is not static. We are constantly abiding in Him.
The gracious dialogue between the Spirit and the followers of Christ where the Spirit is creating and shaping us into the image of God continues. We remain pure only as the Holy Spirit, moment by moment, continues to cleanse our hearts and transform us into His image.
This means a holy, transformed person has a repentant spirit. It means that along the journey there is confession and repentance. Although there is a pure heart instantly, there's a yielding and obedience to continuous transformation.
Engagement in God's Mission
God took the initiative to live in us. "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).
We then take the initiative to engage in that which is broken among us. This engagement is an incarnational expression of personal and social holiness. We join with God in His purposes. As Kingdom people, we embrace God in worship in the midst of transnational, multilingual, multicultural, and transgenerational settings. Together we engage in ministry among the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized.
Why then should leaders find it necessary to push people to find their places of ministry in the church? When our hearts are "purified by faith" and our affections are set on God, it is our spiritual longing to find a place of service to advance the kingdom of Christ throughout the world.
This call to missional engagement is based upon the call of God. We hear His voice. Therein is the value in what we do. It's not position, authority, or money. That's idolatry. There is a Caller who gives meaning and purpose to the missional engagement.
In a spiritual lifestyle, we step beyond our isolation and independence to a quality of life found only in serving God and others. Individually and corporately, we move from internal to external missionally.
This "upward call," spiritual formation, cannot be isolated from "redemptive action" in our world.
A healthy relationship is characteristic of a holy people—a holy Church. Holy people get along with each other. Holy people should be the easiest people in the world to pastor. A holy pastor or leader should be among the most loving, caring, authentic persons in the world.
Thus there is unity. If there is no unity, there is no power. This has to do with purposeful unity, not mere uniformity. Holy people disagree, but they don't destroy. Holy people desire to connect people with Christ, not condemn people in Christ. John Wesley spoke of the "pure love to God and others."
When we understand the sanctifying of relationships, our teaching of Christian holiness does not become a set-up for a let-down. This unity in relationships is based on the unconditional, holy love of God. We subscribe to the theology of love, not performance. The basis is the love, grace, and mercy of God himself which is lived out in our relationships.
In humility, like Christ, we serve one another. He was interested in the towel of service, not in toys, titles, and trinkets.
As imitators of Christ, we empty our rights in submission to God's rights. We abandon our way for God's way. Holy people empty themselves of themselves to serve God's purposes.
Self-absorption leaves no room for quality relationships. Together the people of God seek His purposes and serve one another. When we do this, we reflect the image of the God who is self-giving holy love.
Salvation is the restoration of God's image in us. In every person, there is the potential image of God. People are broken, but God can put them back together again. No one is so lost, but what he or she can be found; no one is so bad, but what he or she can be redeemed; no one has gone so far, but what he or she can come back.
Holiness is about God's nature transforming our nature to be like His nature.
Therefore, we don't celebrate sin. We celebrate God's grace that can purify, wholly sanctify, and empower His people with the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Men and women can be restored in the image of God. His image of Christlikeness. His image is self-giving, holy love. God can rescue us from ourselves as we abandon ourselves to the sanctifying, purifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Awesome doctrine! Awesome experience! Awesome journey! This brings great expectations: love, grace, forgiveness, community, fellowship, peace, acceptance, authenticity, freedom, power, hope, and the transformation of our world. We are chosen of God to reflect the image of God.
Nina G. Gunter is general superintendent emerita in the Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, May/June 2012
Please note: This article was originally published in 2012. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.