The Relentless Pursuit of Holiness
In the Christian life, there are always two unhealthy extremes that we must guard against.
On the one hand, we must guard against legalism. Legalism is the belief that in some way, shape or form, our performance either saves us, or keeps us “in the right” with God. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were condemned by our Lord for a self-righteous, superficial “righteousness” that focused on the keeping of “man-made” rules and traditions, devoid of a genuine heart of worship.
On the other hand, we must also guard against a libertine lifestyle that in the name of “Christian liberty” is characterized by disobedience to God’s Word and consistent, unrepentant sin. That is, a life that is more fixated upon how close we can get to sin without “getting burned,” as opposed to how far we might stay away from sin and its destructive effects upon our lives and the lives of others.
The truth is, God saved us not only to deliver us from the penalty that our sin brings, namely the fullness of God’s wrath, but also He saved us that we might be delivered from the power of sin over our lives. One of the most helpful passages in this regard is Titus 2:11-13:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Note that the grace that saves is the same grace that “instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires.” Like a “schoolmaster” grace is God’s enabling power by His Spirit that teaches us to “say no” to ungodliness and worldly desires. Sin draws us away from a close relationship with God. Sin leads to the loss of joy and peace in the Christian life. Sin leads to a life of painful compromise which causes harm to not only ourselves, but to others who are close to us. In his excellent book, “The Pursuit of Holiness,” author Jerry Bridges writes the following:
The Christian living in disobedience also lives devoid of joy and hope. But when he begins to understand that Christ has delivered him from the reign of sin, when he begins to see that he is united to Him who has all power and authority and that it is possible to walk in obedience, he begins to have hope, and as he hopes in Christ, he begins to have joy. In the strength of this joy, he begins to overcome the sins that have so easily entangled him. He then finds that the joy of a holy walk is infinitely more satisfying than the fleeting pleasures of sin. But to experience this joy, we must make some choices. We must choose to forsake sin, not only because it is defeating to us but because it grieves the heart of God.
Truly, our holiness before God must begin with the recognition that sin is first and foremost against God. Sin is a breach in our relationship with Him. Sin grieves the heart of our Heavenly Father who desires our holiness, and who saved us that we may be holy for His glory and our good. Often times we focus on our “victory over sin.” This is not wrong in itself. However, we must go deeper. We must focus on loving obedience to our Heavenly Father.
How comforting that in the Gospel we are reminded that God has made a provision for our holiness! He has not only saved us from our sins, but he has also empowered us to live in loving obedience to Him by His Spirit. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the truth of God’s Word, and exposes the inner recesses of our hearts, that we may see our sin for what it is, and live in a state of continual repentance from dead works to Spirit-empowered works for the glory of God. And yet, we understand that even repentance must be Gospel-saturated, “Even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb” (Jerry Bridges, “The Pursuit of Holiness”).
May God’s grace continue to propel us to a relentless pursuit of holiness in the Christian life. The grace that saves is the grace that sanctifies. The more we realize the holy character of God, and His zeal for our personal purity and conformity to His holy character, the more we will be driven to walk dependent upon Him for empowering and aggressive sanctification, the “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). And in this pursuit, remember that the same grace that saves, and sanctifies, is the same grace that sustains us until the end!