Lesson 18 of 27
In Progress

The Refreshing Relief of Holiness


Isaiah 35:1–10 (NIV)

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.


There are two gigantic words in Scripture that most aptly describe God. These two words are larger than all of the cathedrals on earth combined can hold or even fathom. The words: holy and love. 

Let’s begin with holy. Holiness. You may not have noticed, but some form of the word appears seventy times through these Advent pages. For many of us, the word smacks of a religious program we are wholly uninterested in. It feels like an old nun at Catholic school with a ruler in her hands poised to crack someone’s knuckles if they so much as look like they are having fun. We think it means something like good behavior on steroids. Even the way Bible teachers describe holiness as “being set apart” misses the point. It’s not wrong, but it’s not quite right either. It just feels too much like a group of people who are off to themselves in some kind of quarantine because they don’t want to catch the sin virus everyone else has but them. The great irony of this brand of so-called holiness is that no one wants to go near it.

What if holiness is not immunity from the world, but the contagion in the world we want everyone to catch? What if holiness means to be set apart like the late Kobe Bryant was set apart when he had a basketball in his hands, inspiring awe and amazement? Or like Mozart arranging notes on a page? What if holiness means being set apart like Jesus doing all the things he did and still does, like rubbing shoulders with lepers and pardoning prostitutes? What if holiness is a kind of greatness that inspires greatness, and not only inspires it but empowers it?

What if holiness is not what we thought? What if holiness means blind eyes open, deaf ears hearing, lame people leaping, and mute tongues singing? What if holiness means water springing up in the desert, pools of refreshment in the place of arid sand? If so, this means holiness is actually relief; a reversal of broken conditions and situations. This means holiness is love. 

It brings us to that second gigantic word to describe God: love. The way of holiness looks like a viral movement of concentrated love. 


Our Father in heaven, nearer than my breath, thank you for these days of Advent and this new year in Christ. Thank you, for your holiness is filled with love and your love is filled with holiness. Thank you for the way your Spirit brings these two divine realities into a single union. Come, Holy Spirit, and make the holy love of God the very substance of my life and character, so much so that my presence exudes your presence and becomes your power through my very being. I abandon myself to you. In the name of Jesus Messiah—the one who came, is here, and is coming again—for his glory and our good, amen. 


Have you ever connected the words holy and love and thought of them as a singular reality? If not, why not? What impact do they have on each other for you? How does it change your notion of the word holiness? Of love?