Dirty Holiness

By Megan Krebs from “Renovating Holiness,”
compiled by Thomas Jay Oord and Josh Broward

When holiness is centred in keeping the self-bleached white, it will only ever be legalism as to be holy is to be like Christ, the God who enters the homes dirtiest and most despised. Tax collectors, women of ill repute, and law-bound Pharisees alike all welcomed Jesus for dinner. If the Hebrew Bible kindles the image of God kneeling in the mud to shape and form humanity to reflect the Creator, that speaks about the kind of image we are to bear.

When l was a little girl, I would get dressed up for church and loved to bounce around in pretty dresses on Sunday mornings.

Almost as soon as the car pulled into our driveway, my mother or father would quickly say, “Now go change into play clothes, so you don’t ruin that dress.”

I was usually halfway down the yard at this point, chasing the dogs. Sullen, I would have to rush inside and change into ordinary clothing before returning to my fun.

Many pastors and teachers have peddled this image of “white robes” to describe holiness. A Christian’s holiness must not be sullied by our dirty world! However, a sense of worry about the state of my “personal” holiness only leads to a refusal to be in community and solidarity with those who most need the hope of Christ. If holiness is truly rooted in the love of God, then it must constantly be found wading through the muck and mire, seeking to restore the paintings that God has made. It must constantly be seeking those to whom it may be a neighbour.

A beautiful piece of art, over time, can be lost under dirt and grime. Dust collects and bars the image from being seen. Without a clear image, it is impossible to guess the master artist who created the work. Humanity shares much in common with such art. Sinful choices that go against the will of God leave the image of the Maker in disrepair. God’s love can seem almost completely lost.

However, much like a painting can be restored, so too God restores the broken life. Cleaning away the filth that has settled into the cracks of the paint and along the edges of the frame, something beautiful emerges: the image that was always present, the image put there by the loving Artist. This is holiness, not that we made ourselves clean, but that God is able to restore even the dirtiest of paintings, sending us back out to bring in the next piece.

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