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When I was in college I struggled a lot with being holy and being funny. Now, those who know me best may wonder if I’m particularly adroit with either virtue. But stick with me for a minute.

I used to have the notion that holiness meant forced solemnity. I remember as a camp counselor standing in an “affirmation circle” at the end of the summer to receive encourage from our peers. The quiet, reserved people were all dubbed “holy” and “reverent” while the ones that made the kids laugh received kudos like “hilarious” or “crazy.” No one to my knowledge was both crazy and holy.

Granted, I know that my humor has not always been edifying and college craziness can be decidedly unholy. But we must do away with the unspoken assumption that holiness is the province of one personality type. Holiness is not a temperament. It is not a forced seriousness nor a feigned religiosity. You can be funny or dull, quiet or loud, energetic or contemplative, amusing or pensive, and still be full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and all the other goodies. Do we really know if Christ was sanguine, melancholy, choleric, or phlegmatic? Maybe the Spirit mercifully kept much of our Lord’s temperament from us. That way we’d deify the Person and not the personality.

The hole in our holiness is not that we are missing pathological seriousness in the church. It’s rather that we are not nearly so serious about the stirring call and joyful possibility of being more like Jesus.

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15 thoughts on “Holiness Is Not the Same as Forced Solemnity”

  1. Joan says:

    Love the photo illustration! Love the words of wisdom! In memorizing Scripture, I am just now at 1 Peter 1:15-16 and have been getting off track – asking myself what this “looks like” (and actually feeling perhaps a false guilt in making others laugh) rather than what is the essence of holiness. Your guidance back to Scripture in looking at the fruit of the Spirit was helpful. Thank you. I will solemnly contemplate this today. :)

  2. mel says:

    I don’t know how anyone can watch kittens or puppies play and not think God has a sense of humor.

  3. LoisW says:

    Your post recalls this passage from Lewis’s “Weight of Glory”:
    It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously–no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
    Holiness is often light-hearted–it springs from a heart that is entirely trusting in God, and desiring to only please Him. There is no happier feeling that having obeyed when sorely tempted. That is true holiness, and it dances.

  4. Wesley says:

    I too remember wrestling with such things (and probably still do) as a ‘class clown’ type growing up or the one in college who would quietly reach over and grab my buddy’s hand as we bowed to pray. Humour is a gift from God and certainly not the antithesis of holiness. What you said about seriousness not being some ‘watermark’ of holiness is quite helpful in making that distinction. To those who think otherwise, some of Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount re: practicing our holiness to be seen by others might be a helpful reply.

  5. Sam says:

    White Sox=proof of God’s sense of humor.

    (sorry, I had to)

  6. Luke Hinton says:

    I needed to hear this. If you have time, what do you think of this sermon?

  7. Charlie says:

    A cherry heart does good like a medicine says Proverbs 17:22. Just a heads up, I was recently nominated by my classmates at a “Christian” college in first place as “mostly likely to go into full time Christian ministry”, second place as “most likely to work overseas,” and second place as “class clown.” So things are beginning to change.
    Interesting note, in a class on religion a teacher noted that the children were more in awe of the stoic Jesus in C. B. DeMille’s film, but were terrified of the laughing Jesus in the newer films.
    Check out this video on humor by Mark Driscoll on humor.

  8. Jonathan O says:

    Great post!

  9. Laura says:

    Having grown up in a Reformed church myself, I had much of the same concerns. In fact, I didn’t develop my sense of humor until I had kids! :) (I won’t dwell on the legalism in the church that I found weighed me down.) How much of it comes from what I assume is our mutual Dutch heritage?
    Having just recently returned to my home RCA church due to a move, I have found that a little of that same stoic feeling is till there. On the flip side, I am already seeing more freedom and warmth than when I was there in my youth. There is more joy there, and for that I’m so grateful. And, I’m wondering if I’ll be labeled the “church clown”! Is there such a thing???

  10. Brandon E says:

    Good point. I believe that genuine holiness and transformation comes from Christ Jesus living in us and making his home in our heart through faith (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:17; cf. Gal. 4:19). It’s not a matter of having a “good” or “bad” disposition but of Jesus getting into our disposition whatever it is. Those who are more severe, solemn, gentile, or patient by nature are just as lacking in genuine holiness by default as those who are more crazy, energetic, course, or impulsive, for the same reason–no disposition innately has by nature the Christ we gain only through laying hold of His grace (Phil. 3:7-16). No natural disposition or temperament is more holy than another by nature, and trying to change our disposition from a “bad” one to a “good” one is just behavior modification even if done out of a pious desire and intention to please God. Genuine holiness and transformation comes not from self-cultivation but from the enjoyment of Christ and His grace in all areas of our life. Then, because He is gradually making His home in our heart in these areas, our human life begins to express His divinely-enriched humanity.

    I think that one thing that can be said for the Lord Jesus’ humanity is that His humanity was very fine and balanced. He could be joyful or sorrowful, private or corporate, active or contemplative, etc., all without excess or exaggeration and without breaking fellowship with the Father. So while there will always be creational differences in personality among the various members of the Body, I believe that Christ’s making His home in our heart tends to “balance” us or “round us out” a bit. We do things we wouldn’t normally do because there is another Person abiding in us and with us. The introverted and individual learn to live as members of the Body; extroverted and social learn to have a private, hidden life before the Lord. The talkative are able to be silent before the Lord; the quiet are able to speak with boldness when necessary. The energetic are able to rest and wait on the Lord. The melancholy are able to sing for joy.

  11. Ian says:

    Great post.

    I would also apply this principle to church gatherings. So often people argue that certain styles of worship (invariably the “solemn” ones) are holy and reverent and others are not. This is nothing more than trying to justify a personal preference or cultural tradition.

    With a bit of care to avoid the pitfalls, I believe that contemporary worship can be joyful and God-centred.

    [As this is a “hot potato” subject, let me make it clear that I have major concerns about many things that come under the contemporary worship label – worship is not entertainment, for example. But we shouldn’t make generalised claims about matters of heart based on outward things.]

  12. Eric says:

    Several comments above seem to use holiness and reverence interchangeably, particularly when discussing the worship service. The post refers to living joyful loving lives that show the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit. Which is very different than coming together as a body of Christ in joyful reverent adoration in worship. I hope that his new book discusses the difference between the two.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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