Wesley Study Bible on holiness

After my last post, I decided to dig out my Wesley Study Bible to see what the editors had to say about the contemporary Wesleyan meaning of holiness. The Wesley Study Bible’s purpose is to help “the people called Methodist” know who we are and how to be who we are. This seems like a good place for me to go in my quest to better understand the place of holiness in our faith today.

Both the Wesleyan Core Terms and the Life Application Topics in the Wesley Study Bible have entries about the word “holiness.” Here are some quotes:

Wesleyan Core Term “Holiness” found in Leviticus 6:

The basic biblical meaning of holiness is total dedication to the Lord God, and therefore total separation from all that pollutes, defiles, or draws people away from God. Holiness is the central theme in Lev. the word holy occurs more often here than in any other biblical book. God’s people are told repeatedly, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” So the key fact and dynamic is this: Israel must be holy because of their relationship with God – because the Lord has called, liberated, and formed them into a people for God’s mission.

Leviticus 6 and other passages make it clear that true holiness is moral and ethical, not just ceremonial. Anyone who defrauds or cheats another must make full restitution, adding a fifth to the value. Thus holiness is intimately connected with justice. God is love – holy, just, all-encompassing love. This is the character of God, and therefore (as John Wesley emphasized), it must be the character of God’s people.

From the WCT “Holiness of Heart” found in Jeremiah 31:

In Jer. God promises “a new covenant.” God will write God’s law on people’s hearts. Then truly “I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer 31:31, 33).

Holiness of heart, not mere ceremonial holiness, has always been God’s goal for his people. God intends inner transformation – the cleansing and liberating of the inmost springs of action and motivation. Jesus emphasized that evil attitudes and actions come from within (Mark 7:21-23).  It is the heart, therefore, that must be cleansed.

Wesley saw that “holiness of heart” could be misunderstood, however, as solely an interior change. The outward ethical dimension so prominent in Scripture could be missed. So Wesley often used the phrase “inward and outward” (or “all inward and outward”) holiness to forestall any disconnection between inner transformation and outward behavior. Holiness of heart means transformation by God’s grace, enabling people to be holy, loving, and Christ-like in their relationships with one another and with the land.

From the WCT “Holiness of Life” found in 1 Peter 1:

John Wesley’s common phrase “inward and outward holiness” emphasized the essential link between heart holiness and holy living. Referring to 1 Peter 1:15, Wesley writes, “perfection is another name for universal holiness – inward and outward righteousness – holiness of life arising from holiness of heart” …. God works in the Christian to produce “both inward and outward holiness.” The Holy Spirit strengthens our will so as to produce “every good desire, whether relating to our tempers, words, or actions, to inward and outward holiness” ….

First Pet 1:15 instructs us, “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct.” No dimension of life, from our attitudes and sexuality to our use of money and care of the earth, fall outside the scope of holy living. We are to have the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5), walking just as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).

From the Life Application Topic “Holiness” found in Leviticus 11:

Many of the rules and regulations about being clean seem complex and, perhaps, confusing: nevertheless, we can learn about holiness from them. Holiness is not merely an inner experience; it is a way of shaping every aspect of ordinary life to please God. Holiness involves all our habits, manners, and behaviors. Not only is holiness the offering of ordinary life to God but also it is a goal for ordinary people. One does not have to have extraordinary gifts to be a holy person, only a willingness to do everything in a way that shows reverence for God.

From the LAT “Holiness” found in Hebrews 7:

Holiness, sanctification, perfection, having in us “the mind of Christ”: these are not earned by our own efforts or achieved for us by an agent of the church on our behalf (such as a human priest). We grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God through Christ, an intermediary and intercessor who ultimately reveals the heart and mind of God. Wesley was clear that all Methodist activity should be founded in Christ, be derived from Christ, grow in Christ, and lead to Christ. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection serve as the ultimate self-revelation of God, and of God’s grace, love and intention for us all.

These do not exhaust the topic of holiness in the Wesley Study Bible. I could easily add several more topics that touch on holiness in some way – especially if we expand the concept to cover sanctification, perfection, and salvation.

From reading these topics, I draw two conclusions. First, the editors of the Wesley Study Bible are attempting to move readers to a much more robust sense of holiness – one much closer to the traditional Wesleyan conception. Second, I am pretty muddled about how to act upon that knowledge in a pastoral setting. The simple fact is that much of United Methodism has all but stopped talking about holiness. I’ve never had a UM pastor or colleague expect a robust holiness from my heart and life. Rather, I’ve been given many tools to squirm my way out of the expectation of holiness.

Most often, this takes the form of warning me against legalism and letting concerns about things such as holiness get in the way of the “real” essentials of faith. But if we believe the parts of the Bible that call us to be holy as God is holy and to have the mind that was in Christ, doesn’t that suggest that holiness is the sign of mature faith? And where that holiness is lacking, it is a sign of a need for further growth?

Am I too caught up in worrying about this?


9 thoughts on “Wesley Study Bible on holiness

  1. It is great to hear people who are passionate about holiness without which no one shall see the Lord. Keep up the good work friends. My book has just been published on the contribution of holiness Churches to justice in the public square and promotion of human dignity. You can find it on Amazon : “Christlike Justice and the Holiness Tradition”.

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