“What in the h#!! happened to him?” These words emanated from a lost 25-year-old whose life was overtaken by addiction, whose brokenness dominated his choices, and whose hope for sobriety had long departed. The person he knew before, the notorious outlaw who principally cared about ruinous behavior centered around methamphetamines, now cared chiefly about people’s souls. What was this newness, this distinction, this transformation, this personal reformation?
The natural man does not have language to describe the works of God. I know that I didn’t. What I saw in this man when I uttered those words, it eluded my capacity for explanation. Never had I seen such works. I went to church as a young boy, and I knew about Jesus. My mother is a saint who tithes “on-the-gross” not “on-the-net.” But this, what I witnessed in the life of this man, was baffling to my unredeemed nature. I watched with curiosity. I noticed every word. I saw profanity replaced with prayer. I heard blessings instead of curses. I witnessed the carrying of a Bible replace the carrying of a crystal meth container. It was fascinating to observe and impossible to explain. God is like that!
When we see God’s work, if we are wise and honest, we are left speechless. The human tongue starves for the language to properly describe God’s works. We stammer over our adjectives and struggle with our superlatives. We stumble in our attempts to properly describe our Creator. Our God knows our limits. After all, He fashioned us in His image. Yet, He has laid upon His Covenant people a high demand, a lofty and challenging objective; equality or sameness with Him. In speaking to the His Covenant people in Lev. 19:19, he spoke, “Be holy, as I am holy.”
I quiver thinking about God calling us to be holy, like He is holy. It seems almost impossible to be like God in this manner, but He has not given us an impossible task. It’s difficult, yes; challenging, yes; impossible, no. In his epistle, Peter revisited this Old Testament summons and carried it forth to the New Covenant people. Holiness is just as important now, in our American context, as it was in both Testaments.
Why is holiness important now? First, it’s necessary to please God. The unknown elocutionist that composed the book of Hebrews explicitly noted the necessity of holiness. He wrote, “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, without it no one will see the Lord.” (CSB) Holiness is a requirement to seeing the Lord. The gospel makes us holy. I do not make myself holy. Christ cleanses us from our sin and we are acceptable to God through the gospel. Biblical holiness is not legalism, it’s purity as God’s people and the quest to maintain the fullness of that purity. It’s a hunger to be unstained by the world and to know God in an obedient capacity.
Holiness is what I witnessed when I saw my brother changed by the gospel. The transformation by grace through faith created a holy human. I saw the change in his life and I marveled with a insufficient tongue.
That’s the second truth I want to note. Holiness is repulsive to some and attractive to others. 1 Pet. 2:15 notes that one purpose of good works, holy living, is to “silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Some people will be vengefully repulsed by holy living. But when I saw it, I was curious. I saw, in my flesh, the fulfilment of Matt. 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” I was like an observer of the gift of prophecy that Paul describes in 1 Cor. 14. I saw the change in this man and said, “Surely, God is among you.”
After seeing the radical transformation that had taken place before my eyes, I could not deny the reality that an agent of change outside of my comprehension had denatured the old man and created something new. Just a few months later, I gave my life Lord. What else could I do? I could not escape the witness before me.
The year was 2006 and I was a new Christian. Everything was exciting: VBS, Upward Soccer, Discipleship Training, Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting. I began rebuilding my life as 25-year-old man unaware of the Synoptic problem but well aware of my sin problem. I gave my all to Jesus and he began renewing all of me. I attended an SBC church where I learned about the local association, the state convention, and went on my first mission trip. I attended an SBC college, then seminary. I helped plant an SBC church. I served as a NAMB summer missionary. I married an IMB journeyman. I cannot comprehend my life in Christ apart from the influence of the people of the Southern Baptist Convention.
So, when I see the SBC attacking one another, their anger frothing like a pack of wild dogs, I wonder, “Have you forgotten that we are family?” The lost world is watching us. Statistics show that many children will witness the end of their parent’s marriage. Some will never see married parents due to the social acceptance of living together. A broken family system creates more brokenness. As the world watches us, they are watching from a place of brokenness. They have their own families that bicker, squabble, and fight. Why would they join a new family that bickers, squabbles, and fights?
I want you to recall a truth from Scripture. The Northern Kingdom of Israel became a vassal of Assyria in 841 BC. They prospered under Assyrian rule and they eventually got into a battle with Judah. Judah was inferior to Israel but they still charged forward and were defeated. We see in 2 Kings 14:14 that the battle between theses brothers ended with Israel destroying part of the wall in Jerusalem, looting the Temple in Jerusalem, and kidnapping hostages in Jerusalem. Friends, long before Assyria marched on the Northern Kingdom and seized it. Friends, long before Babylon marched on the Southern Kingdom and seized it, the brothers fought one another. They rejected their summons to be holy. The people of God rejected their shared family heritage as the people of His inheritance. Friends, our infighting does not strengthen us. Our political allegiances do not advance the long-term success of our mission; they very well could precede our destruction.
I am now 40 years old and have four beautiful daughters. I expect to have a house full of grandchildren in 20-25 years since each one of them desire motherhood. I have not thought about my “grandfather name,” whether it be Pops, Pappy, Papaw, etc., but I have thought about finishing in the ministry. I want to be able to say that I have finished well. I also want to be able to say that I am still an SBC pastor. Can you imagine having to answer that question, “Grandpa, Mom told me that you were a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention for a long time, but the SBC is no longer around. What in the world happened to them?”
Derek Kitterlin is married to Stefanie and they are the parents of Allie, Tori Kate, Chloe and Riley. Derek is the Pastor of New Life Community Church in Covington, Louisiana and is a two time graduate of NOBTS where he completed both his M.Div. and Ph.D.