While I was going through my morning routine, my mind slowly cleared to figure out the day of the week: Monday. It then took the next step forward and remembered the date: June 6. Somewhere deep inside, a neuron in my brain shook itself awake and fired. Suddenly I knew there was something special about the date. It wasn’t until I heard it on the news that I remembered what it was: today is the anniversary “D-Day:” the day the Allies launched the assault on the beaches of Normandy in World War II. There is no doubt this invasion was foundational to turning the tide of the war. It was a horrific day of loss and suffering for everyone involved regardless of what side of the war they were on. It was the price that had to be paid to beat back the Nazis and their ruthless wave of evil.
June 6 was, in fact, just the beginning of a long process. Just landing on the beaches and fighting to gain a foothold on the coast took several days, and in some cases, weeks. Even after this significant accomplishment, there continued to be battles and counterattacks. Operation Market Garden was a colossal failure. The Battle of the Bulge an unexpected and almost implausible victory. All of it rooted in the perseverance, grit, determination, and sacrifice of men and women.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Apostle Paul uses soldiering metaphors to speak of our walk with God? Soldiers - then and now - are characterized by their rigour, commitment, discipline, sacrifice, and willingness to suffer for the benefit of something greater than themselves.
Please understand - I’m not suggesting in the slightest that our walk with God is one of doom, gloom and destruction. It is unfortunate that Christianity is often depicted from the “woe is me” and “suffering for Jesus” perspective. This is not about the experiences of the soldier but the mindset of the soldier. This is about passion, allegiance, and loyalty.
This is where we struggle. On one hand, loyalty to God will transform who we are. Qualities such as joy and peace, gentleness and mercy, patience and forgiveness will be produced in us by the work of the Spirit of God. Wouldn’t it be great if the world was full of those attributes? On the other hand, the beauty of these qualities will find themselves tested under the pressures of allegiance. The values of the Kingdom of God will create stress against the values of our culture and society. Stress creates discomfort.
Overcoming the discomfort requires clarity of purpose. Why are we doing this? And for whom? Our focus must remain on the eternal truths of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount must have confused His early followers. “Turn the other cheek?” “Love those who hate you?” “Forgive those who persecute you?” It doesn’t make sense. Aren’t we supposed to win? What kind of Kingdom is this? What kind of soldier has allegiance to this Kingdom?
Jesus was equally clear about the benefit of life in His Kingdom. Entering the Kingdom meant reconciliation with our Creator and reconciliation with other members of the Kingdom. It meant receiving forgiveness and experiencing grace. It gives a redeemed understanding of purpose to life. We crave these things. Only life in the Kingdom provides them.
There is a word in the Bible used to describe all this. As the tides of culture, including “Christian culture” come and go, this word has fallen out of popularity. Nonetheless, it is critical to our understanding of life for and in the Kingdom of God.
The word is holiness.
Holiness is not a state of being, nor is it the pursuit of perfection. Holiness is nothing more than allegiance to our Creator. It is the quality of being loyal to Him. It embraces the passions and priorities of His Kingdom above everything else.
Our greatest battles for holiness are usually against our own sin nature. The struggle is summarized in Romans 7: “the things I know to do are the things I don’t do; the things I don’t want to do are what I do.” Thankfully, our relationship with God - including our allegiance and loyalty to Him - are based on His grace and not our performance. We struggle to make wise choices. It isn’t easy. It needs a soldier’s sense of rigour, discipline, and commitment.
Holiness is not passive puritanism. It is active, engaging, and curious about the person and nature of God. It is willing to “storm the beach” with courage because of the clear sense of purpose instilled by the Spirit of God. It is open to being wounded because it is eager to show love and forgiveness. It is courageous to engage with others because life in the Kingdom is overwhelmingly full of purpose and value. It celebrates life because it knows that every day is subject to the authority of the King. Every day is one more opportunity to represent Him well.
To twist a marketing slogan from the US Army, “Be all that you can be: Be Holy.”