The Pursuit of Holiness – Chapter 1

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.”

Preface:

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!

Chapter 1:

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!

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5 Responses to The Pursuit of Holiness – Chapter 1

  1. Katie Curtis says:

    I think I resonate with you Sara, when you say you fall into the first category. I KNOW that I’m supposed to actively pursue my relationship with God and be responsible for my own growth as well as letting God’s saving and sanctifying work wash over me constantly. However, it’s very simple to “do Christianity” daily, and not actually pursue holiness. I need to constantly make the decision to put God first and make sure I study his word in order that it may penetrate my daily life.

    In regards to the second part of your post (regarding our response to our sin), it was great to read your explanation as I think it helped make it more clear what Bridges was saying. I used to wonder why I keep falling into the same sin over and over even though I know it’s completely evil and wrong. I now know it’s because I would only grasp sin as my personal failure, instead of that, plus a grievance on my Savior’s heart. Therefore, when I faced temptation once again, it was much easier to give in because I knew I was a sinner and would undoubtedly fail again. I was basically succumbing to the lie that because I was prone to sin, I might as well just give into it. That’s how the devil works, and because I was depending on my own will – I failed. If I respond to temptation with prayer, reciting God’s word and thinking of my Savior and it’s “affect” on him…I can then have His power to help me overcome it.

    I can only be holy, because he is holy. I can only overcome sin, because God gives me the strength to do it.

    • Sara says:

      Katie,
      I think the connection you made between falling into patterns of sin and misunderstanding the affect of sin is helpful. It’s easy to see the consequences of sin on our lives and even those around us that we hurt. Because we don’t see Jesus face-to-face and we don’t seek to know Him as we should, it’s easier to ignore the grief that it causes Him. But if scripture is so deeply rooted in our hearts that we “hear” His words, we will resist temptation more readily. As a parent I can see how my children are more likely to sin when I’m not right in the room with them. But if they “hear” me in their heads, reminding them to do what is right, then they will be more likely to turn from temptation. The analogy breaks down because I have no power to help my children, but like you said—God gives the strength to overcome sin and he promises that he will supply the grace for any situation.

      I was talking with some ladies tonight about how we often choose to do something relaxing (watch a movie, read a novel, etc) at the end of the day because we “need” to rest. But would we really need this escape from life if we engaged with the Lord more fully. He promises to be our peace (Eph 2:14) and to carry our burdens (Ps 55:22). If we were truly able to abide in Christ, wouldn’t we have rest in Him? Is my laziness and lack of motivation partially a result of my failure to pursue the Lord over other things? I often choose the “other” things because I think that I need rest or that pursuing the Lord is hard work. In an effort to give myself rest, is the result actually the opposite? I guess it’s true that it can be hard work, but when we find satisfaction, joy, and rest in Christ the work becomes life-giving and gives us the strength to push through to the next thing. With that it mind, I hope that I can choose to do the harder things knowing that only God can truly bring the rest and peace I crave.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  3. Tiana says:

    Okay, so I know I am WAY late, so I’m sorry if I’m messing things up! First of all, super convicting, definitely makes me want to run to the cross…and run away from this book…all at the same time. I will choose to do the former, over and over, and over.
    I cannot claim ignorance either, although there are times that I sin without realizing (does that make sense?), and am convicted later. I also tend to see the speck in my brother’s (or child’s, husband’s, etc) eye, but not notice the log in my own.
    I really liked what he said about thinking of holiness as it effects God rather than how it effects you. I think this will also help with continuing to feel unnecessary guilt after asking for forgiveness (I do that a lot). If I realize that my sin is an offense to God, regardless of how it effects me, then His forgiveness will be sufficient. He also pointed out that if we are obedient, we will, as a direct result, be victorious over sin…how had I never thought of that before?
    The part that really got me was about not taking sin seriously…I am so bad about this, about making excuses, only for myself, of course….no one else’s sin is excusable but mine (sigh). The scariest part of it is that not calling sin “sin” means that there are sins that we are comfortable with!
    Thanks for suggesting this book. It is definitely prompting a lot of good thinking and lots of convictions and confessions. May we truly strive to be holy, as He is holy!

    • Sara says:

      Do not feel bad about commenting late! If someone comments a year from now, I would be thrilled to know people are still reading the book!

      I definitely know what you mean about seeing the specks in other people’s eyes…I even lecture the children about doing it to each other and then still look past the log in my own eye.

      I think that if we could begin to see our sin as the awful offense to God that it is, we would make a much greater effort to avoid it. That contrast between being upset by sin because I failed vs. being upset because I have grieved God, was probably the most helpful thing I read in the beginning of the book.

      Bridges has a way of explaining subtle distinctions that can lead to a complete change in the way you view God. Sometimes correcting small misunderstandings can have big implications.

      Thanks for joining in!