Question: What does it mean “Take Time to Be Holy?” Aren’t we always supposed to BE “holy?” No one is perfect . . . can we be “unholy” sometimes and still be a good Christian? (Dave’s postlude filled my head this morning).
Hymn Reference: “Take Time to Be Holy” by William D. Longstaff (c. 1882)
Scripture Reference: Romans 12:1-8
It’s not unusual to have to sort out the theology of a hymn: many people remember teachings set to music much better than Bible verses.
Very few hymn writers were trained as theologians, and so some hymns give ministers real trouble. I remember one minister who wouldn’t let us sing any Christmas hymns that included “bells” because bells aren’t mentioned in the Bible.
in this question, though, William Longstaff is actually pretty good in presenting a spiritual challenge.
We need to start with a fundamental question: how do we understand holiness?
Holiness is an attribute of God, suggesting goodness, incorruptibility, and freedom from evil or sin. One of the strongest messages of early Christianity is that through Christ, holiness is conferred upon us even though we don’t deserve it.
With that theology in mind you could argue that we are indeed holy all the time “Because God Says So.” The trouble is, that treats holiness like a title or an award, and we know very well that people are more complex than that. That understanding is built into the question. As well, the Apostle Paul understood that too.
Look what Paul does in our lesson from Romans. After 11 chapters explaining how we have holiness conferred upon us without deserving it, Paul then tells us how to behave. As we read his words we come to understand, that in humans, holiness is a process.
Holiness is a divine thing, so for it to work in us we have to align ourselves with God. Paul describes it as the renewal of our minds: discerning what God wants, learning what is good, and acceptable, and perfect.
We are given the gift of holiness, but we have to develop it, make it grow. Holy isn’t so much what we are as what we are becoming. Except that in the divine economy we don’t have to earn it, we’re already counted as holy. But we still have to nurture it.
That’s how we manage to be imperfect, and do bad things, and still not fall from grace.
Working on being holy is not a bad way of describing what Christian Spirituality is all about: trying to align our minds and spirits with our Creator’s; discovering what is good and acceptable and perfect, AND THEN DOING IT.
That’s why we have Sunday School: to get our children started in the process of learning about God, learning to be holy. It’s why we gather, and worship, and sing, and study, and pray, and encourage each other: these are all ways we work on our holiness. We don’t call it that much these days, but it’s still what we are doing.
We are holy because it is a gift from God. Being holy stays with us, even if we do unholy things, because God holds on to us.
Being holy takes time and attention. It is a process of transformation and growth that will never stop because it is a process designed to take our humanity and make it, and us, more and more divine, without taking away who we are.
That’s why we need to take time to be holy: so our holiness can grow.