“and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23-24)
Defining Our Terms
Holiness. Let that word hang in the air for a moment. It is a word that seems to have been all but banished from the vocabulary of many Christians. What is meant by the word, “holiness”? Scripture reveals that holiness is used, at least when it comes to the believer, in two ways. The first is that the believer in Jesus Christ is set apart for God and second, it speaks of an increase in moral and ethical purity. This does not imply an academic or legalistic pursuit but is instead a pursuit based upon God’s transforming work through the gospel.
Not In Vogue
Unfortunately, there are some, through their lackadaisical attitude toward what it means to be a member of a local church has greatly contributed to this downward spiral of holiness within the local church. Please, don’t misunderstand what I am saying, belonging to a local church can be very messy at times (sometimes we struggle to get along, see eye to eye on various topics and sometimes people struggle and fall into sin). However, I fear that in our desire for pseudo unity, growth or any number of other reasons we have allowed the idea of holiness to fall by the proverbial way. I probably shouldn’t have to state the obvious but I will, holiness is not in vogue. Of course, I don’t think holiness has ever been in vogue (just look throughout history, even Church history). Holiness is not the cool kid on the block and it certainly doesn’t appear to be the cool or hip thing to speak of or pursue. Think about it, when was the last time you heard of a group of Christian men gathering together just to celebrate the pursuit of holiness (and I am not speaking of legalism, since that would not be pursuing holiness, it would be self-righteous drivel)?
What becomes clear from the passage I quoted above is that part of the “new self” we Christians are instructed to, “put on” (notice that this is a command) is, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (There’s that word again). The writer of Hebrews adds commentary on this thought when he says, “ Strive for…the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” That has a way of grabbing our attention doesn’t it? I mean, listen again, if we call ourselves Christians and we are not pursuing holiness, we will not see the Lord. So, within these two passages of Scripture (and there are many more we could look at) we find a warning as well as the ground and goal of the pursuit of holiness. The warning in Hebrews 12 (that is also implied in Ephesians 4) is that without holiness (purity of life) we will never see the Lord. To be sure, the point is that the Lord provides this purity and holiness but holiness is also something that is to be fought for, to be actively pursued daily and is guided by the Lord’s hand (Hebrews 12:3-13). All of this comes with an encouragement. If we are in Christ, the ground for taking up this fight is our being in “Christ”. However, it also comes with a goal; “we will see the Lord”. In, “The Pursuit Of Holiness“, a book that I would highly recommend, Jerry Bridges, seeks to strike this balance between the Christian’s responsibility in pursuing holiness and God’s responsibility in forming holiness in the believer’s life by employing an illustration of a farmer. Just like the farmer must till the ground, sow the seed and harvest the crop, the Christian is to be busy in the work of holiness, developing the character and traits that God has made them responsible for cultivating (ex. obedience, daily intake of God’s word, prayer, fasting, etc.) However, just like the farmer, who may make all the necessary preparations for a harvest, there still exists external elements that the farmer simply cannot control (sunshine, rain, etc.), likewise, the believer’s pursuit of holiness can only be formed by God’s work in that believer. For instance, while the believer is to work toward personal holiness it is God who empowers that work through the power and work of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13).
My we find our joy in Christ and therefore live for and fight for our joy. My next post will examine some specific ways that we can fight for our joy in Christ through the pursuit of holiness. Until then, Blessings.