I’d like to start off by laying again the foundation that we keep coming back to and should never forget. We are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ’s work of redemption on our behalf alone. Once this salvation has occurred in our life and shown itself through repentance and a changed life by the power of God the Holy Spirit, it can never be taken away from us!
A lot of the material I cover in this article I owe to Kevin DeYoung, whose book, The Hole in our Holiness, really brought home to me the importance of seeking to live a holy life. It is a doctrinally sound book that encourages born again believers to seek to live in holiness without giving us a bunch of moralistic checklists. I’m thankful to him for writing it and I pray that God uses it in many lives to bring glory and honor to Himself as I pray He continues to mature and build me up in the faith.
The following is a combination of my study notes for the Men’s Group I lead and thoughts and notes from DeYoung’s book which again, is well worth your time in reading.
Since we are saved and kept by grace does pursuit of holiness really matter? I don’t mean moralistic legalism, but true pursuit of all Christ has called us to. If holiness and pursuit of Christlike-ness does matter-which it most certainly does-there are a few questions we need to ask ourselves.
- Is our obedience known to all (Rom. 16:19)? In 1 Thes. Paul tell the church at Thessalonica that he didn’t have to tell other cities about their faith, people knew because their faith was evident to all.
- Can people look at our lives today and say that we are more like Jesus than we were last week, month, or even last year? Not perfection, but genuine progress.
- Are we Great Commission Christians (Mt. 28:18-20)? We tend to leave out or make light of the part where Jesus commands obedience and expects us to teach obedience to all His commands. He expects obedience from all of His followers.
We know we should be progressing in holiness. So why aren’t we doing it?
- We don’t pursue true holiness because we commonly associate that term with merely abstaining from a few taboo things-alcohol, tobacco, sex outside of marriage, swearing, etc. Again, walking in holiness is not less than these, but way more.
- We fear becoming or being labeled legalistic. Our culture, even Christian culture has lost sight of what the term legalism means. It is actually a very serious charge to lay on someone. You are saying that person has placed their trust in their own righteousness for salvation. You are calling that person a heretic. We have gotten to the place where anytime someone is trying to obey the rules and pursue holiness they are labeled a legalist. As if following the rules and disciplining yourself for godliness are bad things.
- Cultural pressures-coolness. We have played this game of trying to fit in in order to win people to Christ. We are trying to make Jesus and the gospel cool.
- If you succeed in making the gospel cool and acceptable in the world’s eyes, you most likely don’t have the gospel anymore.
- Christ and His gospel are not cool, because He calls people sinners, calls them to repentance, and says He is the only way of salvation… Not cool… But Glorious!
- Holiness is just plain hard work. Dying to self is painful.
- Try. Fail. Try. Fail. Give up. This is usually how it goes.
- We have given up on sanctification. We think that our righteousness is filthy rags anyway, so why try? So we cling to Christ and use our disobedience and failures as excuses to glorify His grace. We believe that obedience that pleases God isn’t possible for us.
- Our obedience does please Him, otherwise He wouldn’t command it all throughout the New Testament.
- Our obedience doesn’t satisfy His wrath, but for the Christian who obeys in faith with proper motives He is pleased.
- Are we to continue sinning so that grace may abound? May it never be!
Why should we pursue holiness?
- To bring Him honor and glory. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
- It pleases Him. Col. 1:9-10, Heb. 13:16
- It is commanded. Eph. 4:1-2, 2 Tim. 2:21-22, 1 Pet. 1:16
- It is one of the reasons Christ has saved us. We talk a lot about and know a lot about the fact that we are ill-deserving sinners and what we must do to be saved, and what we are saved from, but we don’t talk a lot about what He has saved us to.
- He saved us because He loves us. John 3:16
- He saved us for the glory of His name. Eph. 1:6, 12, 14
- He saved us so that we might be holy. Eph. 1:3-4, 4:22-24, 5:26
The Bible makes it clear: Pursuing holiness is a big deal.
- Holiness, or “set apart-ness” has been God’s plan for His people in the OT as well as NT. – Ex. 19:4-6, 1 Pet. 2:9, 2 Tim. 1:8-9, 1 Thes. 4:7, Eph. 2:10, 5:25-27
- Holiness is a sign that we have been saved. – 1 John 2:3-4, 2:5-6, 29, 5:4, 18
Faith without works is dead.
- Faith in Christ’s work on our behalf is the means by which we are made right with God, not our deeds. – Gal. 2:16
- Evidences of godliness always accompany true faith.
- Stressing the need for holiness should not undermine our belief in justification by faith alone.
- Faith and works are both necessary, but one is the root and the other the fruit.
- We should work and rest simultaneously. We are to strive for and pursue holiness and at the same time reset in the fact that our salvation and acceptance by God do not depend on our performance.
- God is the One working in us both to will (give us the desire) and to do (giving us the power) good works (Heb. 13:20-21, Phil. 2:13).
- We should not be so afraid of works righteousness that we ignore what the Bible says plainly about holiness or holy living.
- Don’t confuse real grace with cheap grace.
- Cheap = Say a prayer or say you believe, keep living the same way and be okay with it.
- Real = We get salvation though deserving Hell and we have the grace to seek after Christlike-ness.
Holiness or set apart means not common. In one, very real sense, Christians are already holy because of our position in Christ. But this does not nullify God’s commands for us to continue to grow in holiness on earth. He is the One who gave us both our holiness and the commands to be holy. – Phil. 2:12-13
So, what does holiness look like?
What it is not:
- Mere rule keeping. It is not less than obedience, it is much more. – John 14:15
- Don’t turn holiness into a spiritual or moral check list. Check lists don’t usually deal with the heart.
- Generational imitation. It’s not about recreating the 1950s. Every generation has blind spots.
- Generic spirituality. It’s not this “spiritual not religious” garbage. Many people want to be spiritual, no one wants to be righteous.
- Finding your true self. Our culture tells us to be true to yourself and not to conform. What they are asking us to do in to conform to their world view.
- It’s okay if you conform, so long as you conform to their non-conformist attitudes.
- The way of the world. The world won’t throw you a part for righteousness. Worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal.
- Friendship with the world is enmity with God.
What holiness is:
- Renewal of God’s image in us.
- Adam and Eve were created in His image and likeness. – Gen. 1:26
- In Adam’s sin the human race was given over to corruption. – Rom. 5:12-21
- We are still image bearers. – Gen. 9:6, James 3:9
- The image has been distorted. – Gen. 6:5, Ec. 7:29
- The goal of sanctification is the renewal of this image. – Col. 3:10, 2 Cor. 3:18, Eph. 4:24
- A life marked by virtue, not vice.
- Mk. 7:21-22, Rom. 1:24-31, Rom. 13:13, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, Gal. 5:19-21, Col. 3:5- 9, 1 Tim. 1:9-10, Rev. 21:8
- Rom. 12:9-21, 1 Cor. 13:4-7, Gal. 5:22-23, Col. 3:12-15, 2 Pet. 1:5-7
- Piety is more about character than action.
- Righteous acts flow out of righteous thinking and pursuing holiness.
- A clean, clear conscience. Our conscience is not a substitute for the Bible, but God does use it, informed by the Bible, to speak to us.
- When we violate our sense of right and wrong, even if the action itself is not sinful, we are guilty of sin. – Rom. 14:23
- The question to ask is, “Can I thank God for this?”
- Obedience to the Commands of God. – It sounds really spiritual to say, “God is interested in relationships, not rules.” But it’s not Biblical.
- The Bible is full of commands, even in the NT (you know, the new covenant of grace). They are not meant to stifle our relationship, but protect it and build it. – 1 John 2:3,4, John 14:23
- Christ’s first recorded words in ministry are “Repent.” – He gives us faith to believe and power to repent and then gives us the commands.
- All of us (every person on earth) already have a relationship with God. The question is, is He Judge or Father?
- We are not saved by obedience, but saved so we can obey.
- Looks like Christlike-ness. – Col. 1:15, Rom. 8:29
- We are to be conformed to His image. – John 13:34, Phil. 2:5-8, Heb. 2:14, 1 Pet. 4:1-2, John 6:38
The spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, Bible study, meditation, prayer, memorization, fasting, etc.) are not holiness, but I believe they are good tools for us to use as we seek to live holy lives.