Moral Beauty in the Christian Life1
People often have grave and deceptive misunderstandings of what it means to be sanctified or to grow up in Christ. All too often they gravitate to one of two extremes. J. I. Packer refers to one extreme as “rhapsody without realism” (Rediscovering Holiness, 163). These are folk who concentrate “totally on devotional exercises, experiences of divine love, ecstasies of assurance, expressions of their own love to God, and the maintaining of emotional warmth and excitement in all their approaches to him and communion with him. Of this ardor, they feel, true holiness essentially consists” (163-64).
As wonderful as this sounds, “they fall short when it comes to love of neighbor, sometimes even love for their own families. The problem with these people is not that they are insincere, but that their tunnel vision, born of their all-absorbing passion to know, love, and praise God, keeps them from seeing that holiness involves being a responsible realist [emphasis mine] in the life-situation in which God has placed you. . . . Rhapsody without realism is not Christlike, and it is a failure in holiness rather than a form of it” (164). Did you see that? Genuine holiness, says Packer, means being a “responsible realist.” I like that!
There is also a second group who tend toward the opposite end of the spectrum. These are the folks who are inclined toward “rule-keeping without relating” (164). They see holiness as essentially keeping the law of God. They are meticulously honest and careful and insist on correctness in all areas of life whether at home or at business. They are “meticulously conscientious in shunning evil and avoiding activities classed as worldly (smoking, drinking, dancing, gambling, use of make-up, etc.); meticulously insistent on maintaining God’s truth and fingering error and sin in any company; and their passion to be correct by the code merits unfeigned admiration and applause. But relationally they are cool and distant people, who see rule-book righteousness as the essence of holiness and who concentrate on formal correctness of conduct rather than personal closeness either to God or their fellow human beings” (164-65).
True holiness, on the other hand, “is the healthy growth of morally misshapen humans toward the moral image of Jesus Christ, the perfect man. This growth . . . is an all-around personal wholeness, God-centered, God-honoring, humble, loving, service-oriented, and self-denying, of a kind that we never knew before. One-sidednesses are corrected, undeveloped and underdeveloped aspects of our personhood are brought into action, and the likeness in us of the moral beauty of Christ’s character begins to appear. Moral beauty, like every other kind of beauty, is largely a matter of parts being balanced within the whole, in this case virtues and strengths of character. . . . [Thus] the Christian ideal is of a renewed person in whom love of God and his neighbor; love of God’s law and of his fellowship; love of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; love of worshiping God and of working for God; love of righteousness and love of sinners, blend together in balance. Disproportion and imbalance in the formation of our spiritual identity are not a mode of holiness, but a negating of it” (165-66).