Holiness Is Never Far from Home
Fighting Sin and Satan with a Family
The Christian life is, at one and the same time, both glorious and mundane, both radical and ordinary, both grand and small.
“The Christian life is a great thing, one of the greatest things on earth,” writes nineteenth-century pastor Horatius Bonar. And yet, he goes on to say, it is “made up of daily littles” (God’s Way of Holiness, 127). A great thing made up of daily littles. Such is the Christian life. And such is the pursuit of holiness.
Consider, for example, the apostle Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. In the first half of these letters, Paul walks on the mountaintops of the gospel’s glories. He sings of great things: of Christ crucified, sins forgiven, enemies adopted, devils defeated. And then, he descends from these great heights and enters the realm of little things: of work, fellowship, conversations, time management. And in both letters, he spends most of his time in one of the smallest places of all: the average Christian home (Ephesians 5:22–6:9; Colossians 3:18–4:1).
Paul moves, in other words, from the cross to the kitchen table, from the empty tomb to the living room. Here, in the relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, along with all their typical annoyances and frustrations, holiness lives and breathes and grows.
The True You
If we think for a moment about our homes, we will see why Paul focuses so much of his attention there. For all its smallness, the home reveals big things about us.
If you want to get the fullest, most accurate picture of a person, do not watch him at work, out in public, or even at church — go home with him and watch how he acts there. Nowhere else does the heart overflow so easily; nowhere else does the inner man, so often concealed in public, show his true face.
A husband may speak with perfect courtesy at work, yet harshly at the breakfast table (Colossians 3:19). A wife may respect her husband among their small group, yet assail him with passive aggression when he comes home from work (Ephesians 5:33). Fathers may patiently discipline their children in the church foyer, yet provoke them once the garage door closes (Ephesians 6:4).
And which of these moments represents the true person? Unquestionably the latter. We are who we are at our most unguarded. “Hence the old proverb, ‘Come live with me and you’ll know me,’” C.S. Lewis writes. “Those who leave their manners behind them when they come home from the dance or the sherry party have no real courtesy even there. They were merely aping those who had” (The Four Loves, 43).
The Lord Jesus died for more than public holiness. He died for a holiness that extends to the backyard and the den, to the basement and our children’s bedsides. He died for a holiness that follows us home.
Households in God’s Household
The holiness we cultivate at home, however, is also part of something much bigger than the home. The Christian household of father, mother, and children is not an isolated social unit, but is rather one part of the larger “household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15; 5:4). And our ability to contribute to the holiness of God’s household depends on the holiness of our own.
In the home that God is building, the rooms are furnished with peace, the hallways are lined with brotherly love, the walls gleam with wifely respect, and the foundation rests on husbandly sacrifice (Ephesians 2:17–19; 5:1–2, 22–33). God intends for us to take that blueprint, lay it over our own homes, and, by his grace, start building.
Therefore, before a man is qualified to be a father in God’s home, he must “manage his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4). Before an older woman is ready to “train the young women to love their husbands and children” (Titus 2:4), she must learn that noble art herself. Holiness at home is the prerequisite for usefulness outside the home.
If we are married, then, our first and most significant ministry is not to be a pastor, small group leader, missionary, evangelist, or discipler, but rather to be a holy husband or wife, a holy father or mother. (If we are not married, then one of our most significant ministries is to be a holy roommate at home and a holy brother or sister in God’s household, knowing that we are also preparing ourselves for marriage and parenthood, if God wills.)
Our Long and Ancient War
Given the importance of the household in God’s plans for the world, we should not be surprised when our efforts to be holy at home are regularly opposed. Whether we recognize it or not, our homes are part of a long and ancient war.
The devil’s first assault upon humanity tore apart the structure of the family, turning Adam against Eve, and Eve against Adam (Genesis 3:7, 12). Sin plunged our first parents into a curse that, apart from grace, sits heavily upon our homes. “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband” is as true of today’s Eves as it was of the first (Genesis 3:16). Meanwhile, our modern-day Adams come home from the thistle field, tempted to do all sorts of things rather than sacrifice their personal comfort and convenience for the greater good of their families (Genesis 3:17–19).
East of Eden, every home is a battlefield. In fact, directly after Paul gives instructions for Christian households, he reminds the Ephesians that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). The spiritual battle Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10–20 takes place, in part, in the arena of Ephesians 5:22–6:9: the arena of the home.
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood — not when we discipline our children, and not when we disagree with our spouse; not when we feel our selfishness rise, and not when we fight to make time for family devotions. At every turn, the devil will be at work to make husbands either apathetic or abusive, wives either controlling or cowering, children either prodigal sons or Pharisaical brothers.
No wonder an old friend of mine, on his way home from work, would park a few streets away before walking in the door, and pray for God to make him the man he needed to be.
Principalities in the Living Room
Of course, the battle that begins at home will not come with the sound of a trumpet and the cry of armies. Satan’s arrows, for all their fiery fury, are never so obvious.
In all likelihood, the battle will begin in the most mundane of moments, over the pettiest of annoyances or the most tedious of frustrations. Our homes will become holy like God’s, or devilish like Satan’s, moment by moment, temptation by temptation. The grand battle will be won, or lost, in the daily littles.
A husband, for example, may meet the battle when he has just settled down after an exhausting day at work, finally getting some time to relax, and he hears a voice trail down the hall: “Dear? Can you help?” What will he do?
Will he pretend not to hear? Will he hide the roll of his eyes from two rooms away? Will he say, “Just a minute!” while “a minute” lingers into five? Will he throw a grand pity party, and wonder what he did to deserve such treatment? Will he stomp his way down the hall, making known to his dearest that he is willing to help, but is certainly not happy about it? Or will he hear in the voice of his wife the voice of his Savior, bidding him to follow his footsteps?
How we handle moments like these, day after day and year after year, determines what kind of households we have.
Mundane on the Mountaintops
Where will we find daily strength for little moments like these? In part, from remembering that they are not so little after all.
In a sermon from Martin Luther on the estate of marriage, he mentions how prone we are to listen to “that clever harlot, natural reason,” who teaches us to look upon the duties of home and say,
Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves?
Luther then asks, “What does Christian faith say to this?”
It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels.
Our Lord Jesus has eyes for the smallest duties we perform in the Spirit. “Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord,” Paul reminds Christian servants (Ephesians 6:8). Whatever good is a broad umbrella indeed — broad enough to adorn even diapers and dishes with divine approval, with the costliest gold and jewels.
It’s not quite accurate, then, to say that Paul descends from the mountaintops of Christ’s glory and enters our mundane homes. Instead, he raises our homes to the mountaintops, where God’s glory really shines.