Holiness in its place, without frills and fricots

By Hermes C. Fernandes

I must confess that my reluctance to address this issue is due, first of all, to the stigma it carries. However, I felt challenged to break with my own prejudice and to navigate these troubled seas under the auspices of grace.

Would there be an approach on the topic that did not incur legalism, falling into a human attempt to achieve merits before God through its performance? I am convinced that it is. We need to seek a biblical definition of what holiness is, without the heavy religious rancidity.

Being holy does not mean being morally pure, perfect, or endowed with a mature spirituality. The Corinthian Christians were called by Paul “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and “saints, with all who everywhere call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1 Cor. 1: 2). Nevertheless, the same apostle declares that he cannot address them as “spiritual, but as carnal, as children in Christ”. He justifies himself: “Are you still carnal because, with envy, strife, and dissension among you, are you not carnal, and do you not walk according to men?”(1 Co.3: 1,3). Who would have ever imagined that there could be envious, contentious, carnal saints? But have! And how is it! However, their imperfection does not disqualify them as saints.

Nor is being a saint giving special powers to someone as is usually done in the canonization process of the Catholic Church.

So what is the meaning behind the term “holiness”?

The Hebrew word translated “saint” is Kadosh, which means only “separate”.

Under the guise of holiness, the Christian church has literally separated itself from the world around it and has developed a ghetto culture. Holiness is confused with alienation.

It was from a misunderstanding that Dutch Protestants imposed the apartheid regime in South Africa. Originally, the motives were not ethnic, but religious. White Christians did not want to risk having their faith diluted in the religious fetishism of Africans. Fearing to have the purity of their faith compromised with syncretism, they preferred to delimit perimeters, where whites and blacks would live segregated. We all know where it went.

Sanctifying has much more to do with “separating from” than “separating from”. Peter says that we are an elected generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, the acquired people, to announce the virtues of him who called you from darkness to his wonderful light (1 Pet. 2: 9). Now, how will we announce something to those from whom we have separated? What purpose would there be to announce something to those in our own group? In order for us to be heard, we have to mingle, have a social life, move between men, not as aliens, but as one of them. We are saints, however, we are not ETs.

To sanctify is to separate in order to distinguish, not to separate. And to distinguish is to assign exclusive meaning. Therefore, it can be said that to sanctify something or someone is to recognize the particular place that must be occupied by him.

See, for example, Pedro’s recommendation:

 “Rather, sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord; and always be prepared to respond with meekness and fear to everyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you. ” 1 Peter 3:15

If we give sanctification the meaning it usually gives, this recommendation makes no sense. How could we sanctify the One who is already the Most Holy? How can we make Him even more holy than He already is? If holiness is about perfection, how could we make Christ even more perfect? In addition to being the height of presumption, it would be a paradox. How to make Him purer? Or give it more power? However, if we consider the definition presented here, Pedro’s recommendation will take on a very special meaning.

To sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts is nothing more than to reserve a special place for Him. Although there is a captive chair in our hearts for all that is dear to us, for example, for our family and friends, the throne of our life must be exclusive to the Lord. He will always have primacy in everything. We attribute to Him a different meaning, which can never be shared with any other being.

The sanctity of life

The same apostle warns us:

 “But since he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your way of life; because it is written: Be holy, for I am holy. And if you invoke by Father the one who, without respect for persons, judges according to the work of each one, walk-in fear, during the time of your pilgrimage, knowing that it was not with corruptible things, such as silver or gold, that you were rescued from your vain way of life that you traditionally received from your parents. ”  1 Peter 1: 15-18

Note this: holiness has more to do with behavior than with compartment. I run the risk of being misinterpreted here and judged to be legalistic. It’s not about this. It is not a matter of submitting to a tangle of rules, but of resignifying life. Whoever realizes how holy life is, will never live inconsequentially. Our actions reverberate in eternity. We were rescued from our vain way of life, inherited from our ancestors. We are no longer hostages of the moment. We were asked to go further, transcending time and space. Therefore, it no longer makes sense to adopt the motto of the samba chorus that says “let life take me, life takes me …”

The sanctity of life lies in its purpose. Our existence is much more than a road accident. We were engineered by God to fulfill a purpose. I am at risk of appearing mushy for this statement. But a life without purpose is also without meaning. We are more than just medical records. More than extras in the fabric of existence. We are each protagonist, or as Mandela would say, “captains of our soul”.

Paul expressed this understanding when he declared: “ But I do not care about anything, nor do I consider my life precious, as long as I joyfully carry out my career and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of the grace of God” (At.20: 24). In other words, Paul was willing to face martyrdom if that, in any way, contributed to the fulfillment of the purpose of his existence. After all, it is only worth living for something you are willing to die for. The sanctity of life, therefore, consists of the meaning we attach to it. When we are no longer here, the steps we have taken will continue to echo, the fragrance of the sacrifice we have made will continue to be exhaled by those who succeed us on this journey.

We do not need altars! Don’t you dare to canonize us! Don’t even bother to hide our idiosyncrasies and contradictions under the veneer of an idealized biography. May our victories are celebrated and our mistakes serve as a warning. But let everyone know that we seek to live fully according to the purpose for which we were imbued, despite sometimes being distracted.

The biography of a saint is not a map for the next generations, but only a record of those who sought to make their stay on this planet worthwhile. Lived and let live. He embodied his mission. He spent and let himself be consumed by the flame of passion that moved him.

In the next post, I will talk about sanctification and the individuation process.