John Wesley called the Methodists to be holy in heart and life. Holiness of heart is holy love. Holiness of life is holy living out of that holy love. It follows the pattern of the Great Commandment:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV)
Love God (holy love) and love neighbor (holy living). Jesus is clear in John 15:10 that keeping His commands keeps us in His love.
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 15:10 NIV)
A heart that loves God and loves others will affect our thoughts, words and deeds. Out of the holy love of God we are motivated and empowered to live holy lives, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
The mistake we often make is to believe holy living amounts to trying hard to keep God's commandments and be as perfect as we can. But I am convinced that holy living does not come from the place of our trying. It is not about trying to perfectly keep God's laws. That's what the Pharisees were into, and Jesus condemned them as "whitewashed tombs," pretty on the outside but dead on the inside. We have a word for that: legalism.
Summaries can be dangerous because they can lead to over simplification. But summaries can also be helpful because they can point to the heart of the matter.
Love God. Love people. It's a good summary of the Great Commandment. But it over simplifies. What exactly does it look like to love God? And to love people? Our culture has trained us to make this about our feelings and intentions.
We make loving God about the feelings we have when we sing worship songs or when we pray. Jesus points us to hearts of obedience to God's commands. When we love God with all our hearts, we will not desire to worship idols or dishonor our parents or murder or steal. Holy love leads to holy living.
And Jesus does not let us off the hook when it comes to keeping God's commands. In the sermon on the mount, He actually makes those commands pretty much impossible to keep in our human strength.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment." (Matthew 5:21-22a NIV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28 NIV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also." (Matthew 5:38-39 NIV)
You get the idea. Outward obedience to rules is not the whole picture. What's going on in the heart? And what goes on in the heart leads to outward obedience (or disobedience).
Holy love leads to holy living. Holy living, even if at first it is mere obedience, can lead to deeper holy love. Practicing love toward others can soften one's heart to actually begin to love them with God's love!
Obedience without love is legalism that leads to self-righteousness and judging others. Just look at the Pharisees. And sadly, just look at our own behavior sometimes toward addicts or the homeless.
I am convinced that Wesley was right. He captured the teaching of Jesus and the theme of our redemption which is woven through the entire Bible. In Leviticus 19:2, God tells Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy." And in 1 Peter 1:15-16, the Apostle Peter calls the church to practice holiness, saying, "But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
God wants us to have joy. But it is not His primary intent for our lives. We are image bearers of the Living God. He is holy, and His primary intent is that we become holy. Like Jesus was holy. Like He is holy. And the holy living we are called to practice is a direct outcome of the holy love Jesus pours into our hearts.
So love Jesus with all your heart. And live out that love by obeying His commands. Holy love. Holy living. Powered by the Holy Spirit. That's the sweet spot of holiness of heart and life.
Come, Holy Spirit. Make your people holy. Make my heart holy and my living holy. It's too much for me to do in my own strength. I'm depending on You.