I was teaching a Sunday morning class, and a disheveled "streetwise" man walked in. His hair was frazzled, and it appeared that it had been some time since his last "cleansing." No matter. We were happy to have there (and it's times like that when James 2 really hits home). He didn't say anything, and I suppose that deep down I figured him to be another one from the streets looking for a little handout. After a few minutes he drew our attention because he began peeling off what seemed like several layers of shirts, sweaters, and who knows what all. I guess he was getting comfortable (that auditorium was notorious for being too hot). We continued through the end of class, and I walked over to him to welcome him there. I was expecting some kind of request, but he just shook my hand and stayed put.
Our worship began like normal. The song leader announced the song, which happened to be "Take Time to be Holy." After about a verse and a half, the man arose and started on his way out. One of the men in the back kindly told him, "You're welcome to stay." The man simply replied, "I don't want to get all too holy at once." Then he left. We never saw him again.
That incident has been in my mind fairly often over the years. I don't think that man was trying to be funny, though at first it seemed a little amusing. But the more I thought about it, the more serious of a chord it struck. The sad thing is that this man would probably never become holy at all. "Too much" holiness is hardly a concern there.
Make no mistake. God wants us to be holy. "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:16). All of the laws and regulations in Leviticus are founded upon this principle, and stated in what I believe to be the key passage in that book. "Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy" (11:44-45). God wanted His people set apart for His service; therefore they were not to be defiled by "unclean" things which would destroy that. This principle is carried over into the new covenant and expressed in such passages as Romans 12:1-2 and 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1.
Now I wonder if we sometimes think more like this man off the street than we care to admit. Apparently he was there because he felt like he needed a little "religion," whatever form that would take in his mind. But he had about all he could take, and he hadn't even sat through one of my sermons yet! (I can only imagine what he would have thought then.)
We know we need to be holy. We can read it in the Book. We know God wants us to be set apart for Him, not conformed to the world. But ... let's be careful not to be "too" holy. After all, we don't want to offend modern sensibilities. We don't want to appear to be radical or anything. Let's be holy. But let's not overdo it.
I suppose there is some truth to this. If by "too" holy, we mean that we don't want to be self-righteous, "holier than thou" kind of people, then I agree. Our attitudes must not reflect a self-righteous pride that looks down with contempt on those poor, godless people of the world. There is a sense in which we blend with the world. We need not walk around with robes and backward collars to show we are different. Generally (with some exceptions), we'll wear the same clothes and speak the same language as most others do. And like most other preachers, I enjoy that Sunday afternoon nap with the football game on in the background (one of the pleasures of modern life).
On the other hand, the idea of being "too" holy may conjure up images of being too dedicated, too committed to being Christians. That might mean that we have to spend too much time studying, praying, and attending classes and assemblies. This could mean that we might be inconvenienced at times. After all, we have other things to attend to. We don't want to cut into work, school, or recreation; so while we know it is important to be Christians, let's just not be too demanding, ok? "Be holy, but not too holy."
That point sinks in with me. I'm tempted to go for the convenient things of being a Christian, and shying away from the demanding matters. When I find myself thinking that way, I think back to that man off the streets. He taught a pretty good lesson that day, though he will probably never realize it. Not only do we need to "take time to be holy," we need to pray, "more holiness give me." In the end, there is no such thing as being "too holy." Either we are holy or not. Holiness is to be pursued, not avoided or partitioned off into little time-slots in our lives. Without holiness, we will not see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). How can there be too much of that?