I was driving home to Bennington from Boston this morning. I was tired; yesterday was a long day and a late night. I didn’t feel like thinking, and so, though I’ve done this drive, or a variant of it, many times, I kicked on my GPS and let it talk me through on auto-pilot.
Except that I got to a place in the drive that the GPS wanted me to stay on the highway, but I know the back roads are ultimately about 10 minutes faster. So I roused myself from my stupor a bit and turned off the road (onto Church Street, can I have an amen?) The GPS didn’t join in with any great enthusiasm, however. Turn around. Please turn around soon. You have to turn around! Why aren’t you turning around! I’m pretty sure my GPS isn’t going to be sending me a Christmas card. I’m just that rude to it.
Anyway, the interesting thing is that the mileage to home kept going up higher every time she nagged me to turn around. It started at 72 miles. Then 73. Then, you guessed it… 74! Funny how math works. But then, suddenly, it was like I went through a wormhole or something, and the 76 dropped instantly down to 59, the orange road indicating the pathway to the promised land that had been stretching out in my wake was suddenly like a beacon in the digital forefront of my iPhone’s map.
My GPS got on board with the fact that I wasn’t turning around.
And I thought, what a great way to talk about holiness.
John Wesley famously proposed that Christians are each on a journey towards perfection. Christian Perfection. It was not the goal of every Christian to attain Christian perfection, but Christian perfection was, Wesley posited, the mark of an authentic Christian. Having accepted the grace of God, owning Christ as our savior, we would become incapable of sin, perfected creatures in Christ. His 1741 sermon on Christian Perfection works through the Gospel passages promising that we can and will be perfected creatures, incapable of sin, as we are made pure in Christ.5
For Wesley, this is holiness:
Christian perfection therefore does not imply (as some men seem to have imagined) an exemption either from ignorance or mistake, or infirmities or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus everyone that is perfect is holy, and everyone that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect.6
Well, I know I’m on the journey to Christian Perfection, and I accept, possibly, that absolute holiness may be attainable in this world.7 But I am inclined to understand holiness, or at least the process of holiness, as something more accessible to me. Not accessible in the sense of being able to understand it, to grok it fully, but accessible in the sense of being something upon which I can actually stake my life; something tangible enough to touch and hold on to.
I think of it like my drive home from Boston this morning.
A lot of the time I’m on moral auto-pilot. I do mostly what I know to be true and right, as much as I can, but I’ve also very cognizant of the world telling me what it deigns to be true and right. And I listen. How can I not?
I think of holiness, or the journey to Christian perfection, as having the willingness to turn off the road the GPS of the society is calling me to follow, and follow the road I know to be the right path, no matter how often the voice calls me back; no matter how insistent that voice might be. Those voices might be.
It’s hard, and it’s aggravating, and it’s annoying to have to endure the voice(s) nagging me to do what I know is the right thing to do. And I wish I was always successful. I know Wesley believed, at least in 1741, that one who was a disciple of Christ was incapable of sin, having been sanctified, but I know this journey, at least my version of it, is a lifelong thing.
Of course, that might be the most important aspect of holiness: understanding that ultimately sanctification is God’s work in me, and not my own work at all. Holiness can’t truly exist outside of the understanding of my own limitations, my own frailties, or outside of allowing room for grace to work in my life what I cannot work on my own.8
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Sermon #40, 1741, Christian Perfection|
|2.||↑||Excerpt From: Outler, Albert C. “John Wesley's Sermons: An Anthology.” iBooks.|
|3.||↑||Understanding that it would likely be in people other than me.|
|4.||↑||I wonder who might get offended if I started referring to grace as "the spackle of human holiness?" Perhaps that's a discussion for another time...|
|5.||↑||Sermon #40, 1741, Christian Perfection|
|6.||↑||Excerpt From: Outler, Albert C. “John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology.” iBooks.|
|7.||↑||Understanding that it would likely be in people other than me.|
|8.||↑||I wonder who might get offended if I started referring to grace as “the spackle of human holiness?” Perhaps that’s a discussion for another time…|