By Katie Mumper
Will you indulge me for a moment? I want us to engage our imaginations for a bit.
Let’s try to shut out everything else and focus on the idea of standing in God’s presence. What do you see? I see myself in a throne room like the ones we typically see in animated movies about princes and princesses. The long room is filled with columns, and I stand on a plush red carpet maybe fifty yards from where God sits on a throne. Jesus sits beside him. A beautiful light radiates from them both.
I stand awkwardly, not quite sure how to behave, but Jesus stands and walks toward me. A kind smile parts his lips and fills his eyes. As he draws near, he wraps me in his arms and hugs me close. “I’m so glad you’re here,” he whispers. I melt into his embrace, feeling loved and more sure of myself.
I don’t want to pull away, but eventually Jesus does, turning to lead me toward the throne. Suddenly I become aware of what I look like. My clothes are disheveled and dirty. My arms are scratched and bleeding. Embarrassment floods my heart and mind and paralyzes me. I can’t get my feet to move, but even if I could I’m not sure which direction I’d go.
What would you do? Would you stay and let Jesus present you to God in this state? Or would you run from the room hoping to find somewhere to clean yourself up?
If I’m honest, most days I would choose the latter. I would work frantically to get rid of the dirt and the blood, trying desperately to make myself presentable. After all, this is God we’re talking about. He is the Most Holy. I’m supposed to be holy because he is holy (1 Peter 1:16 NLT). How could I stand before him looking a mess?
For much of my life, what I just described was my understanding of holiness. I knew I was called to be like God, pure and blameless, but I was convinced I had to make myself holy. I couldn’t be holy while covered in metaphorical dirt and blood. And for fifteen years, I was an addict, convinced I could never be spiritually clean. The more I believed I had to clean myself up, the deeper I spiraled into addiction.
Somehow, in all the church services and Bible studies I attended during those fifteen years, I missed a key idea about holiness—it doesn’t start with me.
“You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:21–22 NLT).
This passage makes it clear: holiness starts with God. He is the subject, the one acting in most of the sentences above. He reconciles; he brings me into his presence. These actions are also past tense; he has already accomplished them. My role is passive. I receive the reconciliation, and it changes my status as I stand before him. I am holy and blameless because he made it so.
When I finally understood the truth of where holiness starts, I began to experience freedom from my addiction. Often it took daily reminders about what my role was and what God’s role was in the process. Perhaps this is why Paul goes on to say, “You must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it” (Colossians 1:23 NLT). When we stop believing the truth, we get caught up again in the lie that our holiness depends on us.
If we keep believing, though, how does this change our experience of the throne room? Now, instead of running off to try and clean ourselves up, we can stay in God’s presence, soaking in his love, hearing his voice. We no longer feel ashamed and guilty, even while the dirt and wounds remain. Instead we revel in the opportunity to be with God and let him work in our lives, making us holy because he is holy.
Katie Mumper is a daughter, sister, friend, writer, and singer. She loves Jesus, music, books, and great TV shows. Because she’s far from perfect, she is grateful for God’s grace in her life. She writes with the hope that others might be encouraged to let God make them new as well. You can read more of her work at beautyrestored.me.
Photograph © Bethany Beams, used with permission