We often struggle to find balance between relying on God’s sovereignty in our lives and knowing what is our own personal responsibility as we seek to live out our faith in everyday life. The Pursuit of Holiness provides a clear, Biblical discussion of this tension that we face and helps to provide that balance as we work out our faith.
Before I dig into the chapter, I wanted to make one important clarification. The Pursuit of Holiness is about the process of sanctification; the continual progressive work in which we become more like Christ, beginning at the time of salvation and extending throughout life. It is important to distinguish this from the process of justification (or salvation), which is completely the work of God and and requires no work on our part. The grace of God is a gift which cannot be earned no matter how much effort we put forth. Ephesians 2: 4&5, 8-10 is just one example of the many scriptures that expresses this truth, and I encourage you to read all of Ephesians 1 & 2 one morning this week as a reminder of the gospel and of God’s mercy.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
In the preface, Bridges gives two probable reasons that we do not take responsibility for our own growth in holiness. One is that we are hesitant to own the responsibility for our growth, which then keeps us from intentionally cultivating holiness. It is easier just to say a prayer and say we are trusting God for the outcome than to actually DO something.
The other reason that we may not take responsibility is that we do not truly understand the distinction between God’s part and our part, and how we work together with him in the process of sanctification.
So, which category do you fall into?
As for myself, I cannot claim ignorance. I know that I have a part to play and the truth is that when I examine my heart, I am too lazy and selfish to do what I know I should do. (See Rom. 7:15 -25) It would be easy make excuses (and I do!)—being busy with many small children, consistent sleep deprivation from pregnancy or newborn babies—but I know that continuing to use these things as a defense only impedes my own progress toward holiness. I need to repent of my selfish attitudes and pray for a heart that delights in the things of the Lord more than the things of the world. Anyone here with me?
If you find yourself identifying with the second category, keep reading!
Romans 6:14 – “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under grace.”
What was your idea of “holiness” before reading this chapter?
Did you picture a lady in a long, black dress and a bun like he described? Did you think of the kid from your high school that carried around a Bible, spouting off verses, but not truly loving people or displaying grace? Did you think of a list of rules?
Bridges defines holiness as “being separated from sin and, therefore, consecrated to God.”
Consecrated isn’t a word that comes up in our every day conversation. It simply means to be set apart. It seems pretty basic, so why are most Christians still struggling and feeling defeated by their sin? Especially when Romans 6:14 (above) tells us that sin will not be our master, because we are no longer under the law but under grace. Bridges offers 3 suggestions.
Our first problem is that “our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered.” Does your sin bother you because you have failed, or because it grieves the heart of God?
This one nailed me. I’m a typical first-born in many ways and I am success-oriented. Not to say that I never consider that I have grieved the Lord, but I definitely have a tendency toward this self-focused type of thinking. I am thankful that Bridges wisely drew attention to this subtle difference. I hope I will be more mindful of my attitude toward my sin and seek to know my true motives for avoiding sin. I was also reminded that God requires obedience even if I don’t see the immediate results.
The second problem he mentioned is that we misunderstand what it means to “live by faith,” taking it to mean that there is no need to put forth any effort. Do you acknowledge that God requires some effort on your part? I think I addressed this in the discussion of the preface, so I won’t repeat all of the details.
The third problem is that “we don’t take all sin seriously.” He says that we tend to separate sin into categories of acceptable and unacceptable, when God does not differentiate. Do you tend to minimize sins that are commonly tolerated by others?
Several years ago, I read Bridges’ book Respectable Sins which expands on this idea (and I highly recommend). God used it to open my eyes to how sinful I truly am. I had always been (mostly) obedient to my parents, and rarely did anything that would be classified as “rebellious.” But my heart was filled with spiritual pride that blinded me to many of my other sinful attitudes and I am thankful that God allowed me to recognize some of the sin in my life that needed to be addressed. I began to see that my heart was like a pharisee—clean on the outside but filthy on the inside. The first step to cleaning out some of the sin is recognizing that it is there.
How do you see these “problems” playing out in your life? Do you see your sin in a self-centered way, are you misunderstanding the meaning of “faith,” and/or do you minimize your sin?
The last two sentences of the first chapter provide an excellent summary:
“It is only as we see His holiness, His absolute moral purity and moral hatred of sin, that we will be gripped by the awfulness of sin against the Holy God. To be gripped by that fact is the first step in the pursuit of holiness.”
Please feel free to join in the discussion, comment on the questions I posed, ask questions, or draw attention to anything I may not have included in effort to keep the post a reasonable length. I do not mind if disagreements arise, but please remember to be kind. I’m looking forward to your comments!