A New Kind of Holiness

I don’t consider myself to be that much of a rebel, although I do find it freeing to bend or break the rules occasionally. I think it just helps me remember that rules are not what life’s all about.

That’s probably why I love to read the passages that show Jesus breaking the rules in front of the Pharisees. The “in your face” moments between Jesus and the religious leaders are packed with irony.

Jesus never seems to have a great deal of patience with the self-righteous. He would linger all day with sinners—maybe at a well, the pool, a house or a mountain side, but the self-righteous always seem to be exiting the scene in the biblical narrative.

On one occasion Jesus breaks the Sabbath law in front of the Pharisees to show them that their idea of holiness needs to be redefined. It’s a wild thought: Jesus breaks the rules to show them what holiness is all about.

Jesus enters the synagogue on the Sabbath, heals a man and says a few choice words, and the Pharisees leave ticked off.

The Pharisees didn’t care about the healing process—they cared about rules; they had a rule for everything.

I think this is the paradox we live in today.

For many of us the idea of holiness is steeped in adhering to a specific system of thought: a formulaic list that says, If I don’t do this or this, I will stay holy. 

For the Pharisees, holiness was an act of self-righteousness and comparisons; for Jesus, holiness was the energy of God’s grace flowing powerfully through Him. The more I look into the Bible, I see holiness and grace eternally connected. In Hebrew 12 the writer says, “Live at peace with all men, and be holy—for without holiness, no one will see God. See to it that no one misses out on the grace of God and that no bitter root grows to trouble and defile many.”

The privilege to live a holy life is only by grace, nothing else; it should bring about a certain humility and peace, not bitterness and frustration. The new holiness system Jesus revealed was a catharsis of grace that spilled out in real life, a place where appearances and comparisons seemed to fade into the past. This is what Brennan Manning calls “getting rid of the Pharisee within.”