Holiness by List?

Holiness is worth it, whatever it takes.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.

   - Colossians 3.5, 6

What should be avoided by the holy person?
Not hard to answer:
recurrent anger, vanity without skill, without property,
boldness toward a superior, slowness in answer to the bell,
conspiring with false witnesses,
too much travel, mocking the brethren,
impure words, sharpness in answering,
holding out against the prior, resisting reproof,
quarreling with monks, asking questions often.

   - Colmán mac Beógnai, Aipgitir Chrábaid, Irish, 6th century

Making lists about what people who would be holy should avoid is considered by many to be a form of legalism – something to be avoided.

Celtic Christians were famous list-makers. They found that listing the things they should and shouldn't do, should and shouldn't seek, and so forth helped keep them focused on doing only the things that conduced to holiness.

Were they legalistic?

Perhaps. But they turned their world upside-down for Jesus by earnestly pursuing what they understood to be the path of holiness, as defined by lists such as Colmán provided.

We could say the same about Paul. He made lists to warn the people of God to avoid certain kinds of behavior and people, and to devote themselves instead to whatever was good, pure, wholesome, virtuous, loving, spiritual, and so forth (cf. Phil 4.8; 1 Cor. 13.4-7; Gal. 5.22, 23; etc.).

Would we say Paul was legalistic?

I hope not.

The fact is, it’s a whole lot easier to know where we ought to walk once we’ve erected guard rails along our path to keep us from walking where we shouldn’t. By listing the attributes of holiness, and learning to abide within them, we avoid the pitfalls that ignorance or carelessness can present.

There are a few general guidelines concerning what we should and shouldn’t do that each one of us should follow: The Ten Commandments.

Beyond that, we have to listen to the Lord as he speaks to each one of us about the particular areas of danger and deception that we must avoid if we are going to be faithful in following Him.

They who would be holy will wait upon the Lord to make that path abundantly clear. Then they will walk straight along it.

Let nothing prevent you from whatever will serve to keep you in the Lord’s path. Memorize Paul’s lists and make them your own. Holiness will grow from that.

Psalm 122.3, 4, 7, 8 (Duke Street: “Jesus Shall Reign”)
God will not let our footsteps fall; He will preserve us all in all.
He does not slumber, does not sleep; God will His chosen people keep.

Lord, You will guard our lives from ill; You will our trembling souls keep still.
All our endeavors You will guard; eternal praise be Yours, O Lord!

Teach me whatever it takes, Lord, for me to pursue Your Kingdom and righteousness day by day.

T. M. Moore
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T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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Facing-Up to Sin

If we continue to ignore it, it will destroy us.

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