Sunday, September 2, 2012

An Insight on Holiness

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we talk a lot about things that are holy. Our doctrine includes extensive discussion of the Holy Ghost, holy temples, holy scriptures, holy priesthoods and the Holy One of Israel. We dedicate each building on our university campuses, every one of the thousands of meetinghouses around the world and even our homes as holy places. We talk about it 528 times in scripture and 89 times in the hymns of the Church. Though perhaps not frequently addressed directly, holy people, places and objects are a big deal to us.

That may seem very natural for a religion to talk so much about holy things. In at least one context, after all, 'holy' can simply indicate the person, place or thing has some association with divinity. As many religions strive to build an association with divinity in the lives of its members, it would make sense that they would integrate holy things, including people, to help pave the way.

Yet, in a subtle way, holiness in the LDS Church can take on a slightly different connotation than outside the Church. Where most other faiths talk about holiness as an inherent trait given to a person, place or thing, we refer to holiness more as a developed or earned capacity. It is one thing to have divine potential, but something else entirely to be developed into something that is actually like God.

Dozens of temples around the world are not holy because of the materials with which they are built or the spot of ground upon which they're constructed. Nor are they holy simply because they are a temple, though temples are generally considered holy places. Temples are holy because of the presence of the spirit of the Lord and the sacred ordinances that are performed inside.

This view of holiness is unique in the world. It means that temples can stop being holy if no longer used for their intended purposes. The temple in Kirtland, Ohio, is an example of exactly that. As early members of the Church were driven from the state, the Kirtland temple, despite the sacred and miraculous events that had occurred there, became just another building. It is frequently toured today as a historic site of the town.

The same is true of all other things considered holy in the Church. If the Holy Ghost were to give up his divine mission; if the testimony of Christ were removed from scripture; if the priesthood were removed of its efficacy; if the Lord were to withdraw his influence from any of these things due to unworthiness or apostasy, they would no longer be holy.

Followers of Christ are invited to 'stand in holy places'. The Church handbook instructs that 'these holy places include temples, homes, and chapels. The presence of the Spirit and the behavior of those within these physical structures are what make them 'holy places'' (Handbook 2, 1.4.1; D&C 45:32; 87:8; 101:22; 2 Chronicles 35:5; Matthew 24:15).

Consider for a moment how you act at home, in a chapel or at the temple. If it is the behavior of those inside these buildings that make them holy places, are we contributors or detractors? Do our actions on Sunday contribute to a holy day? Do we, as the handbook directs, 'invite the Spirit into [our] homes through simple means such as wholesome entertainment, good music, and inspiring artwork'?

Likewise, each of us can become holy as we invite the Spirit into our lives and through individual righteousness. Even in the appropriate context, that comes off as a little strange. World religions have historically saved that title for prophets, popes, rabbis, apostles, monks, saints and various spiritual leaders. There seems to come a certain prestige or aura when something or someone is referred to as being holy.

King Benjamin explained in 124 B.C. that being holy is nothing to be patronizing or stuck up about. In fact, those are good clues we're not quite there yet. He explained how we can all be saints-- that is, how we can all be holy-- in this favorite verse of scripture:

The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father (Mosiah 3:19).

Being holy is simply a part of becoming a saint and a disciple of Christ. Through seeking the Spirit and righteous action, our lives may become holy as we allow the Lord to shape us into the people he intends for us to be. As I have sought more holiness in my own life, I have often echoed the prayer of Philip Paul Bliss. Perhaps it will inspire in you the courage to endure and to continue striving that it inspires from time to time in me:

More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff'ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of his care,
More joy in his service,
More purpose in prayer.

More purity give me,
More strength to o'ercome,
More freedom from earthstains,
More longing for home.
More fit for the kingdom,
More used would I be,
More blessed and holy
More, Savior, like thee.

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