Driving to an appointment yesterday in the bleach gray sky that is the pregnant Illinois winter, I snapped in a CD of Dallas Willard talking about the "Means of Transformation." My stomach starting growling, waiting for the blessed bowl that was to come and the conversation with a good friend. I've listened to this talk before, several times actually, hearing Dallas' elderly baritone bouncing through the four corners that are the world of my Chevy. He spoke clearly, slowly, and if he were talking about anything else I would find him unlistenable.
But quiet words loaded with the electricity of spiritual transformation through Christ suddenly achieve decibels of divinity we can't possibly ignore.
In the midst of this, Dr. Willard dropped this thought - I'm paraphrasing here:
Jesus shows us the way to live, that could best be described as "easy holiness."
If it were legally admissible, I would have locked up the brakes and pulled off to the side.
Easy holiness? What is easy about holiness? Jesus was holy because He had to be, right? It's a secret soaking power that He had because He was the son of God. I'm the son of my parents, my way to live is to cobble together goodness under Christ in a picture that somehow has bearing on eternity. Right?
Jesus says, "Follow me."
Jesus says, "I'll be with you. My spirit will teach you, will remind you, lead you into new realities."
Jesus says, "You'll do greater things than I have done."
He says all this while taking the criticism of family and religious leaders in stride. While sleeping in boats. While being threatened with kingship in one moment and death in another.
Easy holiness? Come on.
Willard goes on to say that to exhibit the character of Jesus without really trying is the way that we live out this easy holiness. This comes with work and training, he says, and I imagine Dallas saying this to me as we share a grandfather/grandson glass of iced tea outside of his Southern California home. Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3). Echo. Whisper.
The Bible uses the words qdsh (Hebrew) and hagios (Greek) for holiness. Both mean "set apart" or "separate" or "consecrated." They don't mean morally superior, they mean spiritually repurposed. Taken out of the flow of anger, hate, selfishness and gratification. Living from a different agenda. If this is true, do I believe, in my limited ways of being and thinking that I can be holy and beyond that even can holiness ever be easy?
Dallas speaks - "If you want to speak German, you can learn to do that. It's the same with anything in life. This isn't a religious issue, its a character issue." I know this thought. Marathon training. Writing a book. Learning guitar. Simple. I think.
It's really a question of vision - do I believe that the life of easy holiness that Jesus lived is compelling enough for me to shape my own life to enter into it? Is it possible? Is it good? Is it better?
In other words: Is the pain of not becoming like Jesus greater than the pain of becoming like Jesus yet?
Easy holiness doesn't mean the end of enjoyment or happiness. It doesn't mean the advent of stodgy moralism or rule-oriented Pharisee membership. Instead it means all the things that it meant to Jesus, things that we'd find on His resume that we'd like to see on ours:
Confidence when I don't get what I want in my job, marriage, family, etc. Abiding peace when the planet spins economically out of control. Hope in the midst of darkness & tragedy. Forgiveness instead of misguided attempts to manage my relationships with people by withholding grace. Freedom from the domination of my physical wants and desires. I need bread that no one else knows about.
I arrived at my destination. Parked and turned off the ignition. I stared at the masses coming in and out for their midday meal, and I knew it like all the good things I've ever learned in my life. I have something they need to hear about. Not about avoiding hell and going to heaven, but this very stark and controversial thought.
Easy holiness is possible. Not just possible, but preferable to the life of being Christian in name only.
I zipped my jacket slowly, eyes narrowing in the sunless brilliance and against the whipping pre-winter breeze, and walked easily along the way.
Now, to walk in easy holiness with Jesus. Let the training begin.